Today I am delighted to be reviewing The Serpent & The Dead by Anna Stephens, which is out on kindle today and will be released in physical format next month! It feels like far too long since I read anything by Anna Stephens (It’s not because I reread Darksoul a short while ago) and it was a joy to dive back into her writing, and in a completely new world!
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
An extraordinary duo of Asgardian Heroines battle across the Ten Realms, in this epic fantasy adventure set in Marvel’s Legends of Asgard
In the midst of a bloody conflict, Lady Sif, the valiant Asgardian warrior, watches her close friend die in glorious battle – but her soul is not taken to the eternal halls of Valhalla. Furious and petrified that the afterlife for her and all Asgardians is in peril, she enlists the aid of Brunnhilde the Valkyrie, the fearsome warrior entrusted with conveying worthy souls to the heroes’ afterlife. Together they scour Asgard for answers. Rumors abound of towns being attacked by a horde of soldiers who cannot be killed. Someone is building an immortal army and stealing Asgardian souls… A worthy challenge for two of Asgard’s mightiest champions!
Anna Stephens has become an insta-read author me, which has led to me venturing into the Black Library collection for the first and had me leaping at the chance to read The Serpent and the Dead (that it was Marvel, and Asgard was just added bonuses as anyone who follows the blog knows I like my Norse fantasy) and this book did not disappoint!
In fact, it is safe to say I loved this book.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed was even though this book fits into the Marvel Universe, it didn’t feel like a Superhero book, but instead embraced the feeling of mythological fantasy. Part of that was through the worldbuilding, which seamlessly blends together material from Marvel with Norse myth, which created a much more grounded world and story – and I loved the little details that were threaded throughout that drew from this.
However, I have to say my favourite thing about this book was the characters. I had no worries about Stephen’s ability to create beautifully realised characters, she has created some of my favourite fictional characters, so I went in knowing that I would love these characters. I underestimated just how much though. The fact that The Serpent & The Dead focused on the female characters was one of the huge draws of this book for me, and I enjoyed how you can see the ‘traditional’ traits of the characters and their link to their universe, while Stephens has added her own spin on them, to make them shine bright. The camaraderie between these characters is absolutely fantastic, and as much as I enjoyed the action in this book, it was the quieter character moments, the conversations and the relationships that made this book for me. These are strong characters, who are able to lean on one another, confront their weaknesses alone and together, and that ability to address their emotions, and work together, turns out to be one of their greatest weapons against what they’re fighting, and it never feels forced or unnatural, these women are friends – and in the case of Inge and Brunnhilde lovers – and that is just part of who they are.
‘Brunnhilde’s stomach dropped into her boots at the implication and at the naked worry in her lover’s face. “I’m fine, my heart,” she reassured automatically.’
The relationship between Brunnhilde and Inge was beautiful and never commented on. It was just part of the world and story – which is lovely to see. I want more of this. I want more of how Stephens writes her characters and their relationships (although my heart always fears for what she might do to them!).
The plot was an interesting blend of a mystery and quest – the latter of which fed into the worldbuilding, because it opened the world up, and I also liked how both aspects fed into the characters histories, roles and ties with the world and the people in it. Everything felt interconnected, and there is a very real sense of stakes both on the personal level of the characters, to the world as a whole, and the threat and the enemy behind it were thrillingly threatening and horrifying. This was combined with a fast pace that kept you hooked into what was happening and unable to put the book down, and gripping, hold on to your pants and pray your favourites will survive fight scenes.
‘The shield-maiden groaned, straining against her enemy’s strength. The knife wavered between them but the wound in Sif’s left shoulder had weakened her arm and slowly – and yet all too fast – the blade inched its way towards her face.’
I had so much fun with this book, and it really ticked all the boxes for me – action and emotion, fast-paced and gripping, but still taking those essential moments just for the characters. This book should be on your TBR, especially if you’re a fan of Marvel, Norse Fantasy and stories where the female characters SHINE.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.