Title: Between the Blade and the Heart
Author: Amanda Hocking
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Version: ARC (Uncorrected Proof)
Page Count: 319
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Notable Notables: LGBTQ+ characters
Recommended Readers: Ages 14+, mythology enthusiasts, newcomers to fantasy
I received an ARC from St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review.
When I found out I had won an Advanced Reader Copy of Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking, I was ecstatic. First ARC and a new author? Well, she’s new to me. I have yet to read her Trylle trilogy or Watersong series, but this book instantly had my attention. Valkyries? Revenge? Shattered world views? Sign me up!
Even from the get-go, however, this book threw me off guard. I was expecting a Norse/Valhalla-inspired world of old, especially given the lovely, simplistic cover with the glowing blade in front of some dark, spooky woods. Instead, I was thrown into a futuristic, soft sci-fi city setting, but I adapted to it and was intrigued to learn more about it.
Unfortunately, the intrigue dried up rather quickly because the author didn’t give the city so much as a name. It’s just some vague, made-up city in the United States. In fact, everything about the world seemed vague and made-up as the author drew inspiration solely from past mythologies, which is a shame. The concept of walking into a bar and seeing demons, incubi, goblins, and mortals all hanging out is my aesthetic, but here it came across as flat, not possessing its own breath of originality that I was hoping for.
So I then turned to the characters, hoping they would pick up the slack of the world building. Our protagonist, Malin Krigare, immediately won points for style and bisexual representation, but she quickly lost them over the course of the novel, which is a shame because I wanted to root for her. A big problem of the book was repetition. I’m told over and over again that Malin’s senses, reflexes, strength, and immune system are stronger than the average human’s because she’s a Valkyrie, and dude, I get it. I picked this up, knowing I was reading about Valkyries, but being constantly reminded the same explanation tends to make me less likely to be impressed with it because the author is clearly trying too hard to make something believable. That I could put up with, but Malin’s relationships with the other characters were also dull at best and tedious at worst.
Her relationship with her mother, Marlow, whom she calls by first name, is especially bizarre and dysfunctional, which was the whole point. Marlow treats Malin more like a soldier and a bother than her own daughter, yet Malin still seeks love and validation from her. A truly painful relationship to watch, or it would have been if Marlow didn’t behave like a child, never taking responsibility for herself, and if I’d cared more about either of them. I was so glad when Marlow “left the building,” so to speak, just so I wouldn’t have to endure her presence anymore and the way she snapped at everything that moved.
The plot revolves around these two women, both of them Valkyries, though Malin is still in training. Valkyries are tasked with slaying immortals and returning them to the underworld by order of the gods, and no one can or ever has gone against orders because the world would go out of balance. Early on, Malin discovers that her mother did disobey orders and let an immortal go. That same immortal went on to kill another Valkyrie, the mother of Asher, another main character, who now wants revenge. Seems interesting enough, right?
Unfortunately, the journey was exceedingly bland and suffers, again, from repetition. (Ha, see what I did there?)
Through most of the book, I had to read about a character doing something and then have them repeat it verbally almost word-for-word to another character. I had hoped that the dialogue would at least grant some pizzazz to the book, but instead everyone’s dialogue sounded painfully, exactly the same; every character also seemed to be doing their best impression of practiced small talk, so their personalities—or anything else, really—were rarely revealed through conversation.
That’s another thing, too. Can’t a character just say things? No matter where I looked, it was always “supplied,” “quipped,” “asked,” “conceded,” “argued,” anything except “said.” I don’t care what anyone claims; said is not dead. It is alive and well, and my eyes could have used said to have a break once in a while because the constantly interchanged “said” synonyms often caused me to have too much awareness of the writing, taking me out of the story.
Speaking of story, the characters run around in circles, and nothing much really happens. When things do happen, they’re without much depth with a lot of telling, not showing, going on. The confrontation with the big bad after hunting him down for a whole book was the most anticlimactic thing I’ve ever read because there was so much exposition and a deus ex machina that Malin didn’t even obtain herself; another character conveniently found it for her off-screen and bought it for her on-screen. The battle with the penultimate boss was almost as exposition-heavy, though the character itself was delightfully flamboyant. By this point, though, the ending and what would happen to a certain character was also highly predictable, so when I got there, I was mostly bored rather than fretting or upset.
Malin’s love interests are equally bland. Quinn is her ex-girlfriend and fellow Valkyrie, and the circumstances behind their breakup are truly childish, namely lack of proper communication with your sexual and romantic partner.
Asher is Malin’s current love interest, and I had hoped he would hold my attention. After all, he’s the character who’s on a revenge quest, right? Well, after accidentally attacking Malin in her apartment because he thought she was Marlow, the two have a little talk and things quickly get figured out. From that point on, Asher’s thirst for revenge largely subsides, and he becomes more of a background character in that he is literally in the background or out of the picture unless Malin wants to do romantic, “I-have-a-crush” things with him. Malin “can’t help but notice” how handsome and sexy Asher is whenever he’s around, which I could have understood if I was shown at any point how attractive this boy was supposed to be. Instead, I had to endure Malin comparing Asher to Quinn and vice versa à la this little gem:
Quinn’s amorous gazes tended to be hungry and demanding, but Asher’s were soft and gentle. Quinn wanted to throw me up against a wall, and Asher wanted to pull me into his arms. The problem was that I wanted both at different times.
One, gross, comparing your prospective love interests like that. Two, oh my God, Malin, you’re nineteen and sexually active. Talk to your sexual and romantic partners about what you want! It’s not hard, and if they can’t do it, they ain’t the ones for you, boo-boo!
The characters I found most interesting were actually Jude, Malin’s mechanic and occasional sexual partner, and Arawn, a swanky, powerful demon, but they were only in the book a few scant pages. Why must I always do this with side characters who have no real bearing on the story?
Overall, my experience with this book was unremarkable and at times frustrating. I didn’t hate it or froth with rage at it, but I also didn’t find much to like about it, either. The plot had amazing potential, but it was bogged down with boring conversations, predictability, drab characters, and a lot of nothing happening while the prose repeated itself. Some scenes even took place in a classroom setting because even Valkyries have to go to Valkyrie school or something. It’s the kind of book I might have enjoyed if I was in my pre- to early teens, but the content in the book—drug use, references to sex—isn’t necessarily appropriate for that age group. Given the ages of the characters, I’d say this book is geared more towards older teens.
Reading this book hasn’t totally turned me off from reading more of Amanda Hocking’s work, but I will probably not pursue the sequel. I’ve simply read more novels in YA lit and other genres that I prefer much more than this one.