Kensington, $15.00, ISBN 978-1-61773-513-4
Fantasy Romance, 2017
The Unyielding is the third book in Shelly Laurenston’s Call of Crows series, and due to the size of the cast in the series (and the cast will only become bigger as new characters are introduced in each book) I’d recommend people new to the series to start from the first book, The Unleashing. Also, do note that while the publisher label this book a romance, the romance in this one is overshadowed by antics of the entire cast as they race to prevent the end of the world, Ragnarok, from happening.
In this one, the goddess Gullveig is back, and third time may be the charm as her ally Hel, goddess of the Norse underworld, gives her the use of Hel’s fearsome elite soldiers Carrions to add to her army. Every deity in the world is preparing for the end time, and apparently Gabriel is miffed at the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for suggesting that Louis Armstrong would be able to blow the end of the times trumpet more melodiously. Anyway, something has to be done, but it looks like the only weapon capable of ridding Gullveig for good is the sword of the god of fire giants, Surtr. Fortunately, no one has to travel to the deity’s house to steal the sword. It’s a little easier – they just have to travel through the foes and troubles awaiting them all the way to the roots of Yggdrasil, confront the giant dragon Nidhogg who lives there in his lovely home called Corpse Shore, and persuade him to part with the sword. Simple!
Everyone decides that Erin Amsel, our Crow heroine, is the only one suitable for the task. She can manipulate fire, after all, and she is also the only one crazy enough to be okay with being sent on this suicide mission. Meanwhile, our Raven hero Stieg Engstrom is charged to keep her out of trouble until she is sent on her way to say hello to Nidhogg, and along the way these two can’t help getting under one another’s skin.
If the plot sounds exciting to you, well, hold on there, as the actual adventure takes place at about the late quarter of the book and hence that part of the story – which is supposed to be the integral main plot if I am to take the synopsis on the back cover at face value – feels rushed and underdeveloped. Even then, this part is easily the most interesting aspect of the story, and if the denouement feels more absurd than anything, it’s a funny kind of absurd that works for me, so I’m alright with that.
The bulk of the story is basically farcical, often violent antics of the various Clans, especially the Crows, as they try to work together to get the plan in motion. In some ways, this is okay as the author’s brand of bawdy, vulgar, and violent humor still works very well for me, but I am also bored while wading through those pages. This is because I’ve read them all before, in previous books by the author in and outside this series. Because I’m bored and I really want Erin and Stieg to go on that adventure to meet Nidhogg ASAP, I find myself turning the page with increasing disappointment as I realize the trip isn’t starting anytime soon.
The focus on Clan antics also is to the detriment of poor Stieg, as he’s actually a refreshing kind of hero in this kind of stories. He’s certainly capable at being a competent, efficient killer as well as action hero, but he’s hard to be pigeon-holed into either alpha or beta type. He’s protective and he sometimes hovers over the heroine, but he is very happy to give her space to make her own decisions and commit as much mayhem as she wishes. Stieg can rip heads off without batting an eyelid, but he keeps a pet goat and he hopes to buy a house with enough land after this adventure so that he can start a goat herd (Erin tells her that his goat will be happier off living in a herd). He had a hard life before he became a Raven, but he has no angst at all. He is quiet and awkward at times, causing many, including Erin’s Crow-sisters, to become very protective over him – they give Erin the side-eye and think that she’s just using the poor widdle boo-boo – but when he’s enraged, he has a temper that earned him the moniker of “Angriest Viking Ever”. And yet, all these apparent contradictions come together very well to create a coherent, intriguing hero. Alas, eventually Stieg’s role in the story is reduced to being Erin’s sidekick. Not that there is anything wrong with this, it’s just that his reduced role also means that any further exploration of his character is halted as a result. Shame, really – I’d really like to see more of Stieg’s personality.
In many ways, I still enjoy The Unyielding, but I am also disappointed with it because the author focuses too much on elements that make this book feel like a rehash of her other books at times, when there is an interesting premise already in the story, one that is never fully developed. If that premise had been given more focus, this one may just be another winner in this series.