The Strange Maid (United States of Asgaard 2) is the perfect bookend to The Lost Sun: contrasting the tight control of the first book’s main character against the wild uncontrolled passion of the second book’s protagonist. Author Gratton doesn’t rest on her laurels here, resisting putting different characters in the same setting; instead, she builds the mythos of the United States of Asgaard even further. In the process, the worldbuilding is even richer, more thought provoking, and that much more realistic.
In tragedy, Signy is reborn through Odin’s kiss as a valkyrie – one of only a handful in the world and the first in a hundred years. But her passionate, impulsive nature leads her to an action that causes her to be rejected from the Valkyrie home. Left with only a riddle as a clue on how to reclaim her valkyrie seat, Signy will meet up a mysterious poet warrior named Ned and discover a mission that might solve the riddle: to kill a mother troll for her heart. But in seeking the troll, Signy will learn much about the valkyries, the truth of the epic poem Beowulf, and most importantly, about her own impulsive nature.
Strange Maid transitions smoothly from The Lost Sun, adding to the world and mythos. Although half the book takes place before Baldur not rising in book one, that event sets off a key chain of events in the second book. As well, Soren Bearstar appears fairly briefly in the book, mostly at the end. As such, Strange Maid isn’t a continuation of Lost Sun until the end. The book is fully about Signy and her trials as she tries to complete her quest.
I really appreciate how both books are opposites of the same coin: Soren’s story of control and restraint contrasting against Signy’s passionate embracing of life. But ultimately both books are about sacrifice. Indeed, the sacrifice theme runes strongly through the second book, triggering Signy’s evolution to a Valkyrie continuing on to actual animal sacrifice, and what she sacrifices at the end to complete her riddle.
While Soren’s story was about berserkers, Signy’s is about the Valkyries, and more specifically the Beowulf mythology. Gratton gives both an interesting and intriguing spin, allowing that poets take license and the truth is often murky and unglamorous. But both mythologies are seamlessly translated into the modern USA. It’s truly fascinating to see how Viking/Nord mythology is not only translated but then updated to modern settings. From New Orleans to “Vertmont” and Montreal, it all makes sense.
The writing here is, as with the previous book, beautiful. Never falling into a purple pose trap, never getting lost in the details of the world she has built, Gratton’s words are as harsh or as poetic as the situations warrant. The action scenes (battling trolls) are riveting and some of the best fantasy type battles I’ve read. The reader really believes in the valor and the warrior spirit of the protagonists.
I greatly enjoyed reading the Strange Maid. There really is nothing like this out there – great writing, unique and distinct Nord-inspired world, and character who are very grounded and serious. I look forward to more books in the series.
Reviewed from an ARC.