Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4.5/5 Character: 5/5
21-year old Zelda is obsessed with Vikings. Drawing inspiration from Viking lore, she is writing (and living) her own legend, tackling life with courage and loyalty to her tribe. She was also born on the fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum (FASD) and is aware of needing to take things slowly, follow rules, and study things more thoroughly than others. Her brother Gert — with his shaved head, tattoos, and a thug-like exterior — has been taking care of her since he extracted both of them from the abusive Uncle who took them in when their mother died.
A remarkable cast of characters populates this unique coming-of-age story as Gert gets into some questionable means of support in a neighborhood rife with violence and trouble … and Zelda tries to help. It has one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, and meaningful endings I’ve ever read. It wasn’t the traditionally happy ending I was expecting, but one in which people had to learn some hard truths about themselves and the people they loved. I particularly appreciated the way nobody was presented as all “bad” or all “good” but merely people trying to do their best, not always succeeding, and coming to terms with how to make the best of what they had.
Zelda’s voice is quite engaging. While many reviewers call it “humorous”, I actually found it to be innocent and completely lacking in artifice — which I found quite refreshing. From Zelda directly, galvanized by her Viking research: “Dagaz means to become awake or to transform. That is what I want to do in my legend: I want to go from a normal Viking to a hero.”
Thank you to Gallery/Scout Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on Jan 28th, 2019.
One thought on “When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald”
I haven’t read “When We Were Vikings,” but I will. From reading your review I would guess you might also like “Elmet” by Fiona Mozley. Sounds like “Elmet” is a little darker. On the other hand, the teen female character in “Elmet” is strong and has a clear vision of herself as a defender of her family. Poverty and displacement are important elements and there is not a pat ending to the story.