"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R Martin

21 July 2012

Review: Empty Altars - Judith Post

 When the runes of the goddess, Diana, summon her to duty, she finds herself in a Norse meadow, battling hellhounds that are surprised to find her there. But the hellhounds aren’t the only Norse unhappy to see her. The gods, Tyr and Donar, tell her to return home. Her runes beg to differ, and the 24 bones are always right. She’s pretty sure, Norse gods can be far too stubborn and belligerent for their own good.

When Diana joins forces with Freya—goddess of love, beauty, and seidr magic—and Gudrun—the village seer, she discovers that her runes are more devious than she’d ever imagined. They have a path in store for her, too, one she dislikes even more than Tyr and Donar abhor her meddling. She has to find a traitor in the gods’ meadow and battle the evil witch, Heid. That, she’s willing to try. But she’s also to join with Tyr to defend sacred portals. Working with the Norse sky god will be the bigger challenge, for she’s never been so tempted by a male in the centuries of her maiden life.

Can they win in the face of evil? And just how much can Diana resist?

My Review of Empty Altars (3.5/5):

I was surprised by this book; in a good way. At first I was slightly confused and had already decided that this was going to be an OK read, but as the story progressed I found myself enjoying the story with its magic, deceit and intrigue. As a lover of mythology I instantly appreciated how the author weaved together Norse mythology with Greek and Roman and produced an original and enjoyable tale. Not knowing much about Norse mythology myself, I wish that there had been a little more information at the beginning to introduce me to the ins and outs of the myths but the story has definitely piqued my interest in the subject. The story lacked a solid plot in my opinion, anticipation and the shock factor despite its originality but more than made up for this with its well crafted world and setting and strong characterisation.

The author does an excellent job of depicting Diana, the Roman goddess of nature, childbirth, the hunt and the moon who was also known as Hecate and Artemis in Greek mythology, in this book despite my dislike of her at the beginning. A witch of great power, her runes transports her to a Norse meadow, where she soon learns that she is not wanted. She soon comes to learn that she is to play a vital plot in trying to save the Norse and the whole world from the black-hearted, evil witch Heid. She frustrated me with her cocky attitude, impulsiveness and quick temper but redeemed herself with her caring side and her eagerness to assist those in need of her help. She is in no way a damsel in distress and I admired her strong, independent and feisty attitude but she also irritated me with her arrogance and sometimes superior attitude. Her cold attitude towards Tyr at the beginning of the book perplexed me, as he is undoubtedly kind and respectful towards her, offering assistance if needed. Diana seems distant at first, irritated by his offers of help. Her independence and stubbornness seems to blind her from seeing honest offers of help. Post’s interpretation of the goddess was original and I enjoyed how she modernised her tale by introducing Diana lounging in her New York apartment, her use of modern phrases and her longing for modern technology such as a camera. Her use of modern phrases also added a light comic relief to the story as it utterly perplexed the other characters and made for some scenes of amusement and confusion which helped lighten the serious mood of the tale.

I really enjoyed the character of Tyr, the sky god of Norse mythology. Despite having a thunderous temper he is an honourable and loyal individual who fights for and fiercely protects those he cares about. He is a caring individual, drawn to Diana despite her vexing attitude. I also thought he had a cheeky side and his humorous teasing of the goddess brought a sense of fun and light heartedness to the story. The fiery exchanges between Diana and Tyr were full of sexual innuendos that underlined the intense sexual tension between the two. It was entertaining at first but slowly it started to frustrate me that nothing was happening between the two and when it something finally happened it seemed rushed, too quick and of no great importance, devoid of warmth and passion. I wish that their relationship had been dealt with in a more romantic way instead of a thing that they had to get out of their system before trying to save the world.

Inga’s transformation from a fragile and scared young girl weakened by shame and banishment, to a capable young woman was a great and vital part of the story. Her exile shows the corruption of the seemingly peaceful society and is a prime example of an innocent young girl tricked by a dishonest man misusing his power in degrading ways. Inga’s storyline was full of emotion and I enjoyed seeing her alter before my eyes and fulfil her destiny. Freya, the goddess of love and beauty is a fierce individual in this story, liberal with her sexuality, sensuous and beautiful and eager to unite couples especially Diana and Tyr. I really liked the character of Freya. She just doesn’t take things too seriously, lives a passionate life filled with pleasure and beauty, Freya was another character that helped lighten the mood of the story. Eager for Diana and Tyr to get together she urges Diana to free herself from her chaste life and the dialogue between the two goddess’ was fun to read, as if they were two friends sharing secrets. 

Heid was portrayed as a plausible villain despite the fact that I felt that she posed no real danger towards Diana, a great and powerful witch. A witch consumed by a hunger for power and domination, Heid is depicted as a mad and uncontrollable being who would stop at nothing to destroy everything before her, take control and wreak havoc upon the world. A good villain but I just felt that she was doomed from the moment Diana stepped foot in the norse meadow and battled her hellhounds.

The plot was full of treachery, deception and magic all woven together to create an exciting tale. As a reader I was constantly kept on my toes as there was always something occurring on each page and the story unravelled at a steady pace. The story was laced with twists at every corner, and the surprising revelation of a traitor helped add to the tale. Despite the tale being an exciting one, I felt that the characterisation and the blossoming relationships were more central to the story and therefore the plot seemed almost fractured, less solid. There were numerous action scenes within the story that were a little anticlimactic as we were made aware from the beginning that Diana was an almighty goddess with unmatchable powers.

The magic within the story really interested me and it was probably the most entertaining aspect of the story in my opinion, secondary to the characterisation and relationships. The runes were especially interesting, as they’re aptitude for foretelling the future helped create an intense feeling of foreboding throughout the story. There were also numerous different creatures within the story; giants, hellhounds, witches, dwarves, dragons etc that helped define an exciting tale full of magic.

All in all, this book was a pleasure to read and I enjoyed the characterisation of mythological figures. I felt that the message of the story was that in the face of great evil, loyalty, honour and determination will always pay off in the end. This story may be a little hard to get into at first but a little determination goes a long way and once the story gets going, it’s full of fierce characters, surprises and twists, and an enchanting world of magic and myth. Read it and be surprised. 

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