Valhalla is not for everyone. It’s action, for one, an overlong action film put onto the page. It’s a hyper violent romp through a complex future world with a murderous lesbian as the guide. Do I like it? The first book holds up well when reflecting on the rest of the series. What I ultimately have to conclude, however, is that it’s at least something very different. New.
It harkens back to the old days of action/sci-fi while still being a very modern book. And even though I say this, I can’t name any one thing I could compare it to.
As an independent author myself, I’m always keen to pick up books from small press. Ari Bach, author of Valhalla, is admittedly a friend of mine- but if I get around to reviewing book three in the trilogy, you’ll see that doesn’t affect my reviews.
Valhalla has an interesting world and premise, which is ultimately very well realized, and fun to explore- the future is nearly perfect. Well contained, the world is run by just a few mega-corporations. There is no war. Advanced science has brought internet links to the populace’s brains and put an end to most of their problems. It is, actually, a utopia in any other book.
Violet, our protagonist, is pretty stupid. At a young age, her parents are murdered by thugs, and she herself develops to be very violent in a world that condemns such a thing. Luckily, there’s a secret network of spies in play which catches sight of her and recruits her- Valhalla, they’re called, and they keep the world’s peace. Over the course of the book, Violet is trained, put on a team, and has her first mission- which is, of course, to save the world.
The technology and politics have clearly had a lot of thought put into them. The writing is sometimes dense and hard to follow when it comes to some of the world-building, and inelegant overall. Valhalla started as a film script, and it shows.
The appeal of Valhalla is the action, if you’re a fan of action, or else the general Cool factor of things. The book, especially the climax, is Pretty Sick. I don’t enjoy action, and sometimes had difficulty following it, but the plot and its twists were Pretty Sick. Teams at Valhalla have metal insects put inside the hollow of their chest which are spies and also can turn into weapons. And you know what that is?
What ultimately matters about Valhalla, especially considering the rest of the trilogy, is that it is something very different. It’s not a thriller, or a cyberpunk, it’s a hard sci-fi espionage action book written at the young adult level. The world is unique. The characters, though falling into set archetypes (the tough guy, the smart girl, the jokester), are unique.
Let me talk about the characters, and the MC Violet in particular: does anyone else get a thrill from reading a book where the protagonist isn’t an introverted half-leader trying to seek peace? These are our heroes, but they are hyper violent too, the villains if their enemies weren’t so much worse. Violet is a girl who is unrelentless in being nearly a barbarian, unintelligent, illiterate, but still useful.
Oh, and there’s jokes. Quite a lot of jokes, and hidden references, and strong mythological tie-ins that evolve as the series goes on.
How much do I like Valhalla in the end? Three stars, probably. But I give it higher praise simply because it is a breath of fresh air. One of the biggest notes I had when I first read it (and I preordered it!) was how thrilled I was by the potential of the series. So much had happened book one that I couldn’t imagine where book two or three would lead- and mild spoilers, but I was right.
For all its flaws*, Valhalla is something interesting. If you like action, or are just intrigued, support small press publishers and pick up a copy! (And note, too: authors get the best margins when you order as directly as possible from the publisher’s site, not amazon)
*See! I can be positive!
Flaws: The writing is not particularly impressive, I was oft unable to track action scenes, the first book has some more cliché strokes to it, the ending is just kinda. Simple. I mean, the climax is handled well, I just remember being very unimpressed with the last line or two. The book is not for everyone, either- violent, at times sadistic
Pros: Above stuff, no romance either, I really dig the villain.