Have you ever wondered what happens after Ragnarok, the epic battle in Norse mythology? Elizabeth Bear did when she wrote By the Mountain Bound. In her version of events, the valkyries and einherjar, known as the Children of the Light, were born from the sea after the destruction of the old world. They sing a new world, Valdyrgard, into being and watch over it as angels. Their idyllic life is shattered with the coming of the Lady, Heythe. When she arrives, Heythe claims that an army of giants is right behind her. She wants the Children to take the strength from the humans of Valdyrgard in order to prepare for the coming battle; but taking the strength of innocents tarnishes the Children’s souls. So they are split into two camps: those who follow Heythe, and those who rebel against her. The latter camp is led by Strifbjorn, the Children’s former leader.
By the Mountain Bound is told from three perspectives: that of Strifbjorn, the warrior, that of Mingan, the wolf, and that of Muire, the historian and least of the valkyries. Mingan is the most fascinating character for he is older than all the other Children of the Light: he is the Fenris wolf, remade into an einherjar after Ragnarok. Mingan and Strifbjorn are secretly lovers, having shared the kiss which binds their souls together. The Children are few in numbers, so a same-sex relationship is not allowed because it cannot result in children. But neither einherjar wants to marry because it would unfairly bring a third party’s soul into the mix.
By the Mountain Bound was a phenomenal read. While it is the second book of Bear’s Edda of Burdens series, it is the prequel to All the Windwracked Stars. For that reason I recommend reading it first.
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