It's a mostly realistic story, with only a smattering of mystical elements that may or may not mean anything, and concerns Eelyn's relationship with her brother Iri above all else. Iri was believed killed years ago in battle, yet Eelyn finds him alive on the battlefield- and fighting with the Riki- against his own clan! How could this be? Well, Eelyn's going to find out, because she's captured by a Riki warrior named Fiske, who happens to fight alongside her long- lost brother. Eelyn is gobsmacked by this, and finds herself trying to understand it even as she has the unenviable distinction of being a Riki prisoner.
Complicating matters is the arrival of the Herja, another clan that is feared by both Aska and Riki. Like the synopsis says, the two rival clans may have to join together to withstand the onslaught, but how can generations of distrust be overcome so quickly? That's the heart of the story, along with the family drama between Eelyn and Iri. It's mostly done well, and I liked Eelyn- she has a lot to overcome here, and very tangled loyalties- I could almost feel her anguish, and that's a testament to the writing. The clans are drawn well and the battle scenes are fairly visceral without being too bloody, and I really don't have any complaints. I enjoyed the story, although it started a bit slow for me- I needed several chapters to get into it- but overall it was good.
I also like that it's a standalone. The story is wrapped up, there's nice tension at the end, and the romance that does occur is slow burn. It feels like a YA Viking story, which is not a criticism, just an observation. It wasn't a spectacular read, but it was solid and I'd give it three stars, bordering on four. I liked the imagery of the snowy forests, the cold fjords and the pebbly beaches- the author did a nice job evoking the world. And the themes of acceptance, regret and trust are explored well. All in all, a solid book.
I have a few additional thoughts. As mentioned above I thought the battle scenes were done well, for the most part, but I was a little surprised that Eelyn never really showed fear. She's a seventeen year old woman who fights alongside the men and takes on warriors much stronger than her, so she must be a skilled fighter, and I don't want to sound sexist but a teen woman fighting grown men is going to be at a disadvantage no matter how you look at it. I would have liked to see that explored more- how exactly are Eelyn and company cutting a swath through more experienced warriors? Also, I think it would have been more realistic, and Eelyn more relatable, if she had some pre-battle jitters, which I think most people would. Instead she's like a fighting machine.
Dovetailing with this a bit is the fact that she fights through broken or at least severely bruised ribs and other injuries, and again she's seventeen. Pretty tough. Which is great but it could have used a little more realism. It can hurt to breathe with broken ribs, let alone running and throwing axes and whatnot. Also she's been fighting for a while, so she must have started even younger- why exactly does her father put her in the front lines? Sounds like a good way to lose a daughter!
The other issue I had was the final battle. The Aska and Riki set a trap for the Herja, which involves running over a drop-off into a fjord, where the Herja that follow will be massacred. Why exactly would the Herja follow their enemies over a cliff? Wouldn't they stop and say, wait a minute, maybe something's odd here? I didn't get that. Other than that, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and it does a lot of things right, but these issues took me out of the book a bit.