Today I am delighted to be helping out with the Storytellers on Tour Release Day Blitz for Windborn by Alex S. Bradshaw, as this dark Norse fantasy caught my attention from the moment I first heard about it. Beneath the review, you will find an extract and also the opportunity to win a copy of this fantastic book for yourself, so please check out the book and support the debut release!
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
Drowning is only the beginning…
Edda Gretasdottir is a raider, a fell-handed shield-maiden, feared along every coast. Hers is a life woven in battle scars.
But she never wanted to walk the warrior’s path. All she wanted was freedom, to earn enough gold to buy her family their own remote farm, and to escape their oppressive chieftain. Now, she has enough plunder so that she can finally hang up her shield and live in peace.
That peace is stolen from Edda, however, when raiders burn her home, destroy all that she loves, and toss her, wounded and bleeding, into the ravenous ocean.
But the fates are cruel and this is not the end for Edda: she rises from the bloody surf as a Windborn, a cursed warrior whose supernatural gifts are a poor exchange for everything she has lost.
Fuelled by rage and armed with strange new powers Edda will hunt for whoever sent the raiders, for whoever is responsible for taking everything from her. She will show them the sharp edge of her axe… or die trying.
Windborn is a dark, character-driven Norse fantasy packed with emotion, deadly foes, and vicious battles.
Get your copy of Windborn now to hear Edda’s epic tale!
Windborn was a book that I wanted to pick up from the moment I first set eyes on the cover (sometimes it really is that simple, and I mean just look at that cover – it’s stunning) and the blurb only reinforced that, and it didn’t disappoint.
Edda was without a doubt the main selling point of this book for me. She makes for an incredibly compelling and well-written protagonist from the moment we encounter her. In part, this is because we experience everything through her eyes from the first-person point of view, and therefore we share very vividly what she experiences, what she thinks and more importantly what she feels. Her highs and lows throughout the book, are our highs and lows, her grief beats in our chest and her anger and desire for vengeance echoes in our blood. First-person is often a challenge for me, I’ve always leaned towards third person, but when it does work it is because of the strength and individuality of the character voice, and that is very true here. Edda’s voice is memorable and resonates, and it is a credit to Bradshaw’s skill at characterisation that she raised that feeling in me and moved me from start to finish.
The wide-ranging cast of secondary characters are well-realised as well, and while Edda’s experience and voice is our primary focus I found myself particularly enjoying the time spent with the various Windborn as the story progresses, as well as her friendship with Fjola. Amongst the supernatural elements, and the harshness of the world and the situations that Edda finds herself in, it was the little character details and their interactions that added a grounding, humanity to the story – for example, some of the conversation between Edda and her husband in the first chapter had me smiling, and immediately feeling the depth and warmth of their marriage.
The magic system treads an interesting line between being a rules-based system, and the mysterious nature of magic that is fitting for a world heavy with Norse Mythology and Bradshaw does an excellent job of maintaining that balance while creating something intriguing and unique. I always appreciate when there is a price to be paid for accessing such powers – although it is a steep price here, and also worlds, where those with powers may be the most ‘powerful’ but, are limited or restricted or feared in some way, it makes for a more complicated world and it was a delight to see how it played out in this book. The powers themselves were fantastic to read about, especially when they came into play during fight scenes, and those were some of my favourite scenes (plus it was a fun game, to try and work out what abilities the different Windborn had when we first encountered them).
As much as I was immediately taken with Edda and the world that Bradshaw was building, I must admit that it did take me a little while to get into this one, although I think that is in part due to it being first-person and needing to find my feet with Edda’s voice. That said, once I had found my feet this was a book that swept me along, the writing was vivid with a terrific blend of emotion and action, and prose that breathed life into every single aspect of it. There were lots of twists and turns, many of which I did not see coming, and this is very much a book that keeps both Edda and the reader on their toes without ever losing sight of the course it’s following and carrying you with it.
Windborn is a fantastic debut, and an excellent addition to any Norse Fantasy lovers shelf and I would recommend it to anyone who loves Norse fantasy and character driven fantasy, and I will be keeping a weather eye out for future books by this author.
The longship was too small.
Men and women, stained from our raid, dripped sweat and worse onto the wet sand. They shouted and pointed, trying to be the first to load their spoils.
The taste of blood still bothered me and I turned back to the small waves clawing at my feet. As I crouched down to wash the blood from my face, the taste of salt seeped past my lips to mix with the iron. I spat a glob of blood and seawater onto the sand. Up and down the shoreline others did the same. We stained the sea red.
I splashed another handful of water on my face before I stood and faced Atli.
“What is it?” I snapped. This was our first rest in what felt like forever and we were about to be stuck together on a sea voyage for five days, if we were lucky, longer if we weren’t. Ask any raider and they will tell you their last moments of solitude are precious.
“Go and get Bjolfur,” he said and pinched the bridge of his nose.
I pushed myself to my feet and stormed over to the longship. It was beached in a sheltered cove near to the temple we had raided. The Temple was too large for us to raid alone, but we had joined forces with other longships who had beached themselves further along the shore. Each of them would be hauling their plunder onto their ships and making ready to leave before nightfall.
The argument had grown more heated, and the air was heavy with a tension that suggested bloodshed was a single misstep away. I sighed as I heard my husband in the middle of it, his voice the loudest, and saw him jab a finger at the raid leader.
“—need to get home. We took the hostages to put them to work. We shouldn’t wait to see if anyone comes to ransom them back. We need to sail.”
A chorus of agreement from the fighters behind him.
Malka, our raid leader, raised a hand to try and placate the crowd. “We should give them a few days to pay the bounties, Bjolfur. Gold is easier to carry across the sea. If they come for the captives by then, we should still be back with plenty of time for you to do your work on the farm.”
Some of the others looked unsure. Whatever Bjolfur had told them, he likely hadn’t told them the whole truth.
“I took my hostage to help me with the farm. What good is gold when I need to get the flock in for winter?”
Malka balled her fists and looked around. She saw me and relief washed over her face.
“Can you talk to him?”
Bjolfur spun around but his anger faltered when he saw me. He looked ready to continue the argument regardless, but my arrival provided enough of a disruption and most of the onlookers had started to move away to collect their shields for the return journey. Bjolfur came over to me as he grumbled to himself. I took his hand and dragged him to the sea.
“She wants me to leave the hostage behind,” he said as I bent and soaked a strip of cloth in the water.
“Do we really need an extra pair of hands on the farm?”
Bjolfur huffed. “You can never have too many hands.”
“Maybe,” I conceded and passed him the wet rag. “But we’ve managed fine so far. And if Malka takes the gold and silver instead of hostages then we’ll be able to hire help. If we get enough gold we might even have enough to start our own farm.”
He stopped washing his face and frowned at me. “We need help more than we need gold.”
We looked at each other. His face shone with half-washed blood and dirt and there was a blunt tiredness in his eyes. It had been a long raiding trip and Bjolfur always worried about the farm, even if we were only away overnight.
I sighed and went to him. His arms fell around my waist and he rested his head on my chest. I leaned down and kissed the top of his head.
“If you keep arguing with her, Malka will never let us leave.” I tugged softly on his braided beard. “And then it won’t matter if we have extra help or not. We’ll be stuck here, watching the winter storms. What’ll happen to Scratcher or the rest of the chickens? To the sheep?”
Bjolfur scowled then kissed me. The taste of iron and salt pressed against my lips again.
“She wants to keep us waiting here, anyway. What do you suggest, wise wife of mine?”
I shoved him playfully. “Let’s see if we can convince Malka to leave tomorrow. If they don’t come to get their loved ones by then they probably never will, and if we leave any later then we risk winter storms.”
Bjolfur looked unconvinced. He scrubbed his hands over the stubble on his head that had grown in the weeks we’d been raiding.
“Look, one day’s delay won’t matter and the longer we talk about this, the less likely we can set sail today anyway.”
He stopped scrubbing his head and stared at the horizon through the gap in the cove’s cliff walls.
Gulls laughed above us. People shouted to one another as they gathered supplies and weapons. At the other end of the cover, a larger longship slithered into the sea. Compared to our band of fighters their crew moved with a slick precision that they had mirrored on the battlefield.
“Fire,” Bjolfur said, then slapped my hand. “Stop picking your scabs. They’ll scar.”
“I like my scars,” I said. “They remind me of things. You see this one? I got this three years ago the last time we came raiding in Ertland.”
“I remember,” Bjolfur muttered. “Some fucker stuck you with a knife and was about to finish you off.”
“And you leapt out of nowhere and jilled him.” I ran my thumb over the puckered skin with exaggerated affections. “It reminds me that you love me.”
“Atli’s wife is content with jewellery,” Bjolfur said, shaking his head. “He gave her a gold ring last raiding season.”
“I might lose a ring. Come on, let’s talk to Malka.”
After I had taken Bjolfur away, the dissidents dispersed to tend to their equipment. Malka and Atli were the only two people on board, moving sacks around to pack as much as they could into the small vessel. The line of twenty-seven bound captives huddled in the longship’s shadow ducked their heads as we approached. Too many to fit comfortably on our longship, but they were hard-won and could fetch a pretty price.
Bjolfur’s voice echoed through the cove. Everyone glanced up like feasting crows from their carcass. For a little man, my husband can make a lot of noise. Two heads appeared above the shields hung over the side of the longship. Malka squinted against the setting sun, then rolled her eyes when she realised who it was.
“You were supposed to talk some sense into him, Edda,” she called out and leapt down onto the sand.
Bjolfur bristled. I put a hand on his shoulder.
“I tried, but I think you need to reconsider what he’s been saying.”
Malka narrowed her eyes. “Edda, we took those hostages to be ransomed back. We have no room on the ship, and no room at home for them.”
“Here we go again,” Bjolfur threw his hands in the air. “You and Dagnur don’t have room for them, maybe, but there’s plenty of us who’d appreciate the help over winter. Try thinking for yourself instead of thinking like that gold-hungry bastard.”
Malka took a step forward, putting Bjolfur into the shade of her bulk. “There’ll be none of that talk, Bjolfur. This is Dagnur’s ship and I’m his representative here. You speak ill of him, you speak ill of me.”
“Malka,” I said, stepping between her and Bjolfur. “We’ve been out here for weeks. Dagnur wouldn’t want us to get back so late we miss the harvest, or can’t get our animals in, would he? All for a little extra gold?”
Malka bit her lip. She played absently with the ring of woven copper on her arm, the ring Dagnur had given her to show the oath sworn and loyalty owed. “We wait another three days for them to pay, one day for each of the sacred trees. Then we leave.”
I could almost feel the heat behind me as Bjolfur’s anger rose again.
“It’s taken us longer than that to drag them back here,” I said.
She looked at me. I saw the tension in her jaw loosen. We’d been on enough raids together to know that the longer you held hostages, the less likely it was their ransom was paid. She was wavering, and I was about to try and push her over the edge when a couple of rocks tumbled down the nearby cliffs. Something about the stillness that followed made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Malka felt it too. She straightened and looked away.
The beach was silent.
No one packed or spoke. Not even the gulls made a sound. Atli threw us our shields, then humped from the longship and picked up a spear. We looked around, trying to find the source of our unease. All I could hear was the wind swirling in the cove and the rhythm of the waves, but years of raiding had taught me to trust my instincts and my fellow raiders. We gathered out weapons.
Something snapped. A tiny sound nearly lost under the quiet hiss of the sea. It came from the rocky path leading out of the cove. The path that lead back to the temple.
We moved together without a word. Malka, Bjolfur, and I layered out round shields to make a shield wall as Atli moved behind us, ready to stab his spear over our shields at whoever came too close.
A bush beside the path twitched.
“Form up,” Malka shouted out over the beach. “Shield wall.”
Raiders all over the beach grabbed their weapons and scrambled toward us. A shout echoed out from the cove and caught the attention of the crews of the distant longships, though they were too far to tell what was happening.
Ahead of us, a warrior leapt from the bushes.
“For Edwyn,” he cried and drew his sword.
As he ran forward more figures emerged from the shadows of the cliff path and joined the charge. Chain shirts and half helms glinted in the dim afternoon sun.
“Where were these fuckers when we attacked the temple?” Bjolfur muttered.
“They must have gone for help,” I replied and slipped the knife from my belt.
More and more fighters spewed from the cliffs like a tide of steel and vengeance. Ertland had rallied its defenders, though some clutched woodcutting axes and wore no armour. There were so many, they threatened to overwhelm us with numbers alone.
“Shield wall!” Malka shouted, voice strained with urgency.
A few fellow raiders caught up to us and slammed into our shield wall. It wouldn’t be enough.
The rest of our raiders sprinted across the sand. They wouldn’t reach us in time. We had dragged the longship too far up the beach, our crew had gone too far in their need for solitude, and we would pay the price. The charging Ertlanders enveloped us like a sea serpent’s jaws.
“Brace,” Malka called.
We set our feet in the sand and they hit us.
About the Author:
Alex S. Bradshaw grew up in Kent in the UK and spent much of his childhood hiding (sometimes under tables) and reading a book.
He has always been a fan of epic stories (as well as dinosaurs and cake) so it came as no surprise to anyone that he went on to study Classics and Ancient History at university.
Now Alex works in publishing and has turned his hand to making epic stories of his own.
GRAND PRIZE: One (1) paperback copy of Windborn by Alex S. Bradshaw
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