Heathen by Natasha Alterici

So much works for Atasha Alterici’s Heathen: wonderfully distinct storytelling, engaging characters, and beautiful illustrations you just want to stare at and explore. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Disney here (despite the very adult premise) and I completely agree – mix the visual style of Hercules/Frozen and then give it storylines about various types of love and you get the idea of this title.

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Story: Viking maiden Aydis has been exiled from her tribe after kissing a girl. With nothing to lose, she decides to free the cursed Valkyrie Brynhild from her prison of Flames. But Odin is not so easily circumvented and Aydis will soon become embroiled in the machinations of the Norse Gods.

First and foremost (and not evident from any of the covers) the illustration work throughout is superb. Expressive, distinct, and possessing the impressive qualities of mixing fine art with cartoon qualities. The animals are especially fascinating – I was especially enthralled by a vignette about the wolves of Ragnarok, Hati and Skoll (sons of Fenrir). But even Aydis’ wight horse Saga is particularly emotive in ways distinct to that animal. I found I was staring at the pictures just to enjoy them independent of the story.

Which isn’t to say that the human shaped characters weren’t equally wonderful to enjoy. Most of the characters evoked similarities to the Disney style of Hercules. Which isn’t to mean that this is children’s fare, just that stylistically Heathen is very enticing and friendly. There’s nothing gritty or harsh here as one would expect from most Viking stories these days. Instead, this is much like a fable though admittedly with very modern sensibilities. Indeed, that anachronism is perhaps the only real issue I have with Heathen: it tries a bit too hard and single mindedly in that respect. Every subplot is about women’s rights or that of the LGBT world and it got a bit too narrow for me at several points.

I enjoyed all of the characters and appreciated that at its heart, Heathen is about love and acceptance. The volume does end abruptly and without a complete story arc – readers will be left wanting more. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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