A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
It's worth checking out the Acknowledgements section to see the painstaking research that went into recreating a world set in medieval pagan Scandinavia. The author visited museums and heritage sites and read a lot of history and Norse mythology. In the story, the author includes accurate descriptions of Viking ships and specifics on Viking-age poisons, herblore, runes, warfare, and wound care. Norse gods are often referenced.
Stresses the importance of love and loyalty toward family and friends. A hunger for power is the strong opposing force in this story. Adversity and hardship build resiliency. Eiric receives some sage advice: "A man cannot choose the life the Norns weave for him…What he can do is control how he responds to what the fates hand him."
Positive Role Models
Reginn survives a hard existence as an enslaved person and, despite the stigma, uses her magical gifts to heal others whenever she can. She has the courage to escape and exhibits even more courage by questioning authority and uncovering hard truths others refuse to see. She puts all her efforts into learning how to read so she can scour the library for the truths others hide from her. Eiric is a dedicated son and brother who just wants to save his farm from an abusive stepfather. This sends him on a journey where his bravery and skills are tested as a sailor and a warrior.
Even though this is set in medieval Scandinavia, a few characters are described as Black or bronze-skinned, including two of the magically gifted students. One of the gifted students is blind. A school elder explains that fellow students are called "brodir and systir, as in Systir Katia, or sistkyn for those uncommitted to gender."
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Violence & Scariness
One main character is beaten by his stepfather, another is tortured with painful burns by the man who has enslaved her. A mother dies protecting her baby from cold, the baby left to die by his father because of seizures (it was a common Viking practice to abandon babies or "give them back to the gods" when they didn't immediately thrive). A woman is burned at the stake for being a witch and stabbed by those who find her out of mercy. Fights ending it deaths with axes, swords, daggers, magical staffs of power, and flame whips, including fights with giant wolves and boars. Some brief mentions of gore including a man nearly cut in half and a beheading with an axe. Two dead from poisoning, another from a hanging. A storm throws passengers overboard and some go missing. A ship on fire with people trapped and killed. Mind magic coerces a man to kill. A near execution and a man back from the dead who is later tracked down and killed. The main character talks of betrayal by her foster mother who sold her into slavery. Talk of child sacrifices. Talk of a woman fending off advances. Another woman kisses a man forcefully before she intends to kill him.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A passionate kiss, an erection, some nonsexual undressing described. Brief talk of an older teen's many partners and how many people at a school are "casual about sex."
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Rare swearing, including "ass," "bitch," "slut," "hell," and "bastard."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Many scenes take place in taverns where there's lots of drinking going on, mostly ale with some wine. Some social drinking outside of taverns as well. Some characters drinking are in their late teens, but it's medieval Scandinavia. Two alcoholic characters are also violent.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Children of Ragnarok is the first book in the Runestone Saga by Cinda Williams Chima, author of the popular Seven Realms and Shattered Realms series. Fans will know that the author's fantasies are always complex with highly detailed worlds. Here the series is steeped in the history and mythology of medieval pagan Scandinavia, which the author researched meticulously. She conveys how hard life must have been at this time. Lawlessness prevails, people are enslaved, bought and sold, and even tortured, women are burned at the stake for being witches, and everyone drinks heavily -- there are two violent alcoholic characters. Expect all of that plus fights ending in deaths with axes, swords, daggers, magical staffs of power, and flame whips, including fights with giant wolves and boars. Some brief mentions of gore include a man nearly cut in half and a beheading with an axe. Two are dead from poisoning, another from hanging, a ship catches fire and people are trapped on board and killed, and a storm throws passengers overboard. Also, mind magic coerces a man to kill, and there's talk of child sacrifices. Sexual content is mild by comparison, with a passionate kiss, an erection, and talk of exploits. Strong language is rare ("ass," "bitch," "slut," "hell," and "bastard"). Reginn, one of the main characters, survives a hard existence in slavery and uses her magical gifts to heal others whenever she can. She has the courage to escape and exhibits even more courage by questioning authority and uncovering hard truths others refuse to see.
Is It Any Good?
Nothing is as it seems in this absorbing medieval Scandinavia-set saga, not the magic powers or the island sanctuary or the serene sages, spirits, lords, or fire demons. That's the big draw of this new world, the complexity of all the forces at work is mind-bending to unravel. The main characters are easiest to understand. It's clear what they both want. Reginn wants to be free to learn and be a part of a new magical world, Eiric wants to be free to live on his farm with his family in peace. It's much harder to understand who's on their side. Eiric's half-sister Liv, yes, though she is full of magical mysteries herself. What about the Viking lord who's using Eiric to find the island? What will he do when he finds it? What about the robed women who offer to whisk Reginn away to paradise? Or the council that rules the island? Or the girl in the library who encourages Reginn to read ancient tomes and discourages her from showing anyone her powerful rune magic?
Truths come out slowly and occasionally the story slows to a crawl as they are parsed out -- especially as Reginn researches the island's history. Still, there's no moment when the reader is sure-footed with where Children of Ragnarok is headed and what the minor characters will do next. So expect an ending full of wild revelations and bloody action. And expect to be drawn to Book 2 like a Viking to his ship.
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