Author: Rebecca Barnhouse
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: March 27 2012
Hardcover: 336 pages
This is historical fantasy at its best. Sixteen-year-old Hild has always been a favorite of her uncle, king of the Shylfings. So when she protects her cousin the crown prince from a murderous traitor, she expects the king to be grateful. Instead, she is unjustly accused of treachery herself.
As punishment, her uncle sends Hild far away to the heir of the enemy king, Beowulf, to try to weave peace between the two kingdoms. She must leave her home and everyone she loves. On the long and perilous journey, Hild soon discovers that fatigue and rough terrain are the least of her worries. Something is following her and her small band of guards—some kind of foul creature that tales say lurks in the fens. Will Hild have to face the monster? Or does it offer her the perfect chance to escape the destiny she never chose?
Rebecca Barnhouse’s companion to The Coming of the Dragon is sure to appeal to younger fans of Tamora Pierce, Esther Friesner, and Shannon Hale.
Stand alone or series: This is a companion book to the author’s Beowulf retelling The Coming of the Dragon but can be read as a stand alone
How did we get this book: We both received review copies via NetGalley
Why did we read this book: We both love Historical Fantasy and this seemed really promising (comparisons to Tamora Pierce, Esther Friesner, and Shannon Hale?! Uh, YEAH, we’re in).
Ana: I absolutely love to be taken by surprise by a book. I had no real expectations about Peaceweaver except for the hope that it would be a cool Historical Fantasy novel but as soon as I started reading it, I knew this was going to be a Good One. And it was: a cool story with connections to Beowulf, great Norse setting and above all a fantastic heroine. This is definitely a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree with Ana. The cover of the book is a little misleading because it gives the impression of a Middle Grade or younger YA novel (which isn’t bad – just misleading). I was completely taken by surprise by the depth of this story, with its impressive heroine, the exploration of duty and honor, and the beautifully written world. In short, I loved it.
On the Plot:
Ana: Peaceweaver is a companion novel to The Coming of the Dragon which – from what I understand since I have not read it (yet) – is a retelling of Beowulf. At the end of that book, its hero Rune meets his bride-to-be Hild. Peaceweaver tells the story of Hill leading up to that point.
As the story opens, Hild is getting ready to become the mead-server at the hall of her uncle, the King of Shylfings. This is an honoured position and she hopes to fulfil her role with the grace and ability that is required of her. More than that, she hopes to become, with time, a peaceweaver –suggesting peaceful actions and effectively becoming a political adviser. This is a position that has been instrumental in keeping the peace at her kingdom but ever since the Queen has fallen ill, the King has resorted to hear the words of his Bard. Her dreams are quashed when she is taken over by an unknown force – much like a berserker – and is driven to protect her cousin (and presumed heir) from an assassination attempt. Unfortunately for her, she is now regarded as a threat and sent away to marry the new King of the Geats as a peace offering. Before she leaves her entire world behind as well as her family and friends, she learns that the King has no intention to honour the peace treaty and she fears she will be killed to.
There is quite a lot that happens in this book and the above is but the set up – the majority of the novel is spent on Hild’s journey to her new home, a journey that is full of danger. Hild faces it all resolutely and with a clear mind – she knows she must do everything to escape, to avoid getting to her destination. But to her dismay, the force that guided her to protect her cousin is also guiding her to protect the men that are taking her to her new home.
There are a lot of different threads here – there’s Hild’s coming of age story, finding her place in the world. Plus, the backdrop of diplomatic relations between two different kingdoms and an adventure story with monsters and dragons. I loved Hild’s portrayal and her strong voice and I actually think this should be required reading to those who think Medieval-inspired Fantasy can only portray women as either saint (mothers, wives, daughters) or whore. Yes, Hild dreams big, but her dreams are possible and realistic within the context of that era.
I also really loved this book’s treatment of slavery. Slavery was a part of the Viking world, part of their social structure. The book acknowledges that and our heroine – despite her fair treatment of her slaves – sees nothing wrong with it, in principle. It is just part of her world but I loved how the text shows a different perspective by giving voice to slaves by making it clear that their compliance is merely adaptation in order to survive. There are no happy slaves who are grateful to their masters here. One of the main characters is Hild’s slave companion, who is almost like a mother figure to her. At the first opportunity she gets, the slave runs away. Hild is hurt by this but also fully acknowledges that she would do the same if she was in her shoes.
Thea: ALL THE THINGS THAT ANA SAID. What most impressed me about this book – and that’s a hard choice, because so many things impressed me about Peaceweaver – is the utterly convincing nature of Hild’s world. Through our heroine Hild’s eyes, we see the order of society with the male warriors and clan Kings holding sway over their people, while women provide guidance and uphold honor, duty, and advise in other ways. As Ana says, Hild’s story is the perfect antidote to historical medieval fantasy, in which women are often portrayed as virginal saints to be protected, whores, or untouchable warrior women. Hild is, in contrast, a believable young woman – the niece of her clan’s warrior king, who thinks, dreams, and feels like a woman that belongs to this time period. I have to again say I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with Ana’s comment about Hild (and her kin’s) feelings towards slaves – there are no happy slaves here, but also importantly there aren’t any radical contemporary ideas in the mix, either.
Of course, the plot itself is wonderful as well and I now realize that I need to get my hands on the companion book to Peaceweaver as soon as possible, because HOLY CRAP, I loved this story. Hild’s is a coming of age novel, but one that unfolds from the dining/gathering hall of her clan, to the mist shrouded woods beyond on her trip to the realm of the Geats, replete with betrayals, new friends, and honest-to-goodness monsters. I loved every step of the journey, and the different decisions that Hild must make along the way.
On the Characters:
Ana: How much did I love Hild and everything about her? A LOT. I loved that she was resilient and resolute, strong without necessarily being kick-ass although there were plenty of kick-ass moments when she was berserking. I appreciated that there was a heavy element of conflict then stemming from her wanting to have a choice and being forced to do things she doesn’t want to especially considering that she wanted to be a peaceweaver. Having said that, she does like the power she has but she hopes she can control it and eventually learns she can indeed choose how to proceed.
I loved her relationship with her mother and sisters, with her best friend. I loved how she ponders about honour and about how she would even possibly accept dishonourable actions if that means saving her own life. She is a complex, flawed heroine and I just wish everybody would read this book. Plus, the secondary characters are also expertly handled by the author.
Thea: Yep, this is another review where I’m just nodding my head and basically agreeing with everything Ana says. As our heroine, Hild is freaking AWESOME. She isn’t a badass warrior, nor is she infallibly wise – Hild is simply Hild. Headstrong and brave, yes, but not without her own biases and failings. The most important thing about Hild is her sense of action and consequence, and the knowledge that she has the ability to make decisions that will inevitably affect others – not just herself. She grows with each of these decisions, finishing in a wonderfully written (albeit painful) character arc.
I loved the other characters too, especially in that they all felt real and multifaceted. No one is just Bad or Good, and perceptions of these different characters change over the course of the book – from Hild’s slave Unwen, to the warrior, Mord. And isn’t that the nature of people and relationships? Opinions change, just as people and circumstances do – and I especially loved how this is shown in Peaceweaver.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: This is the sort of adventurous fantasy novel that I love. Part Coming of Age, part Quest, this heroine’s journey is absolutely, completely awesome. I loved it, definitely a Notable Read of 2012 with top 10 potential.
Thea: What Ana said. Peaceweaver is a surprising, enthralling adventure of a girl coming into her own as a young woman and her steps towards becoming a great warrior queen. I loved it, from first page to last, and cannot wait to read more from Rebecca Barnhouse.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From the excerpt:
The smell reached Hild’s nose, filling her with a sense of unease. Then a door shut—somebody letting a cat out—and she saw it was just smoke from a cooking fire, not the sulfurous fumes that had hung over the lake a few weeks back. Good. She wanted nothing to spoil this day, of all days.
Past the last houses, the lane narrowed as it neared the Lake Gate. Hild crunched over the gravel, increasing her speed as her excitement grew. At the gate, she raised her hand in greeting and watched in surprise when one of the guards waved back, his dagger flashing in a shaft of early-morning sun. It was Brynjolf, her friend Beyla’s brother. He gave her a broken-toothed smile and called her name. Hild shook her head. How many times would Brynjolf forget that he was no longer a boy but a member of the king’s army, required to stand silently at full attention? A more experienced warrior, menacing behind his masked helmet, stepped out of the guard tower to admonish him. Hild winced. At fifteen, a year younger than Hild, Brynjolf had been promoted to the men’s troop only a week before, but knowing him, it might be years before he remembered to take all the rules seriously. If he remembered them at all.
Past the gate, Brynjolf ’s troubles behind her, Hild could see blue lake water glittering as the sun caught tiny wavelets in its net. A breeze carrying the faint smell of fish riffled over her eyelashes and lifted strands of her dark hair into flight. Was that a smudge over the water? No, just her eyes playing tricks on her, and the memory of the wind-driven cloud that had settled over the lake. Dragon smoke, Ari Frothi had insisted, but the old skald’s words had been ignored. Not in living memory had a dragon fl own over the land of the Shylfings, and Bragi, the new skald, had announced with smooth certainty that no dragon would dare attack the kingdom. The cloud was soon gone, leaving only an acrid odor and flakes of ash drifting down like dark snow. Most people had forgotten it—but Hild couldn’t. Strange tendrils of smoke wove their way through her dreams, embroidered by words she could almost catch in a voice she didn’t know, a woman’s voice, harsh and commanding. They left her with a longing for something she couldn’t identify, something just beyond her grasp.
She blinked the cloud away, reminding herself of why she was out so early. She could barely wait to tell her eldest sister the news. Her exuberance returned, mirrored by the diamonds dancing on the lake, and making her want to rush forward like the waves. Surely, if anything would get Sigyn back into the hall, it would be the sight of Hild standing on the dais beside their uncle, the king.
When the path branched, she turned toward the group of dwellings clustered together on the shore, allowing her feet to skip a few steps. Small boats lined the beach some of them right-side up, some of them upside down, a few with people gathered around them unloading their early-morning catch as the water shushed onto shore. Far out on the lake, boats bobbed, their bows winking in and out of view, and Hild stopped for a moment to watch them, shielding her eyes with her hand. Beyond the boats, on the lake’s far shore, red and gold birches swayed, too distant to be more than a tossing blur of bright color.
Closer by, on the near shore, a boat sat waiting, eager to be out on the water. Hild gazed at it, memorizing its contours and the way the prow tapered upward, graceful as a drinking horn. It was just the image she needed for the banner she was weaving—the one that would someday hang in a place of prominence in Gyldenseld, her uncle’s splendid mead hall.
Ana: 8 – MOST Excellent
Thea: 8 – Excellent, Indeed
Reading next: The Book of Blood and Shadows by Robin Wasserman
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