Title: A Mankind Witch
Author: Dave Freer
Length: 352 pgs
Summary: Cair Aiden, one of the Redbeard Raider brothers, a pair of corsair seacaptains, has washed ashore in Norseland and made a thrall (slave) of the Telemark kingdom. This is a new phenomenon for him–Cair has always been master of his own fate, and just because he is now a thrall doesn’t make him believe differently. Studying his surroundings and the internal politics of this little kingdom of Telemark, set in the 16th Century, Cair manipulates his way into being the personal thrall of the Princess Signy, who is unknowingly at the center of an immense plot to throw the Christian oath-bearers out of the country and allow dark magics to reign supreme.
pg 216 – Cair swept aimlessly. His mind was a ferment. First, relief that she was, it appeared, both alive and unhurt. Secondly, at her reaction. Seeing her, smiling down at him, it had been a holiday with his wits. Cair was finally prepared to admit to himself that he–he of all people–was hopelessly in love with the girl-child*. And to her he was a loyal thrall, to be trusted enough to carry steel. Not even quite human. To be cherished, yes, as she did her horse. And yet, when he made her laugh in that dark place–it was all right. He would be her thrall, if he could make her happy.
pg 232 – Head bowed, trying to look even smaller and more unimportant than she felt, Signy walked out of the troll queen’s throne chamber and down into the troll hill. Here she was–“Signy you can’t do anything right,” “Signy you are so clumsy you can’t be trusted with anything”–with a skeleton key. His only key. A map which she couldn’t read. Intructions she was terrified of having to follow. And it wasn’t “Signy you can’t succeed at anything.” The thrall simply assumed that she would. It was a frightening and somehow uplifting belief. The little hard core of her honor that was the essence of Signy Siglunddottir was determined to do it. She kept a wary watch while he set the trap rope. At his gesture she moved past the door toward noisome cells, and waited, willing herself to be invisible.
*Worderella note: Signy the girl-child is 24 yrs old.
Why should you read this book?
It reads very much like Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. The beginning is slow, full of slight backstory so we are acquainted with the characters even while watching their present actions. There is a lot of political intrigue. Apparently, it’s also part of a three-part story, where two of the main characters are the only main characters in the other two books, or so the narrative in this book leads me to believe. I probably won’t be reading those, because I like how this one felt like a stand-alone. So, for you writers, read this book for an authentic feel for setting and history; especially in terms of all these Norse words that the characters use like it’s no big deal. It’s a big deal to me, I almost put the book down because I felt like I had to learn some other language to understand the story. Luckily, Freer told me what the words meant just as I was getting frustrated, and I read on.
Read this book for a well-planned romance that isn’t the main point of the story. Instead, I would say this story is about self-empowerment. For both men and women, really, because all the characters at one point completely believe they will fail. By the end of the book, Freer utilizes the same trick Maguire does, which is to make his chapters shorter, so you feel like you’re flying with the characters through this intense action. Overall, a good read. The characters are tangible and funny. The setting is believable and integral to the plot. The plot itself feels original to me, but that might be because I only have a moderate understanding of Norse mythology. I did recognize the villains from what I do know about Norse mythology, and yet, I was still interested. I still don’t quite know their motivation behind their actions, except that as dark creatures they want more power, but I suppose that’s just another reason to read this book and learn from Freer’s mistakes and successes. Give it a try, I’ve decided I liked this book.