So we have another review of Sword of Hel – and once again it’s a negative one! This book is shaping up to be my most unpopular release since I wrote a pirate novel years ago! Richard Fisher gave the book 2 out of 5 stars and titled his review, “Very underwhelming…”
“A Viking warrior dies a dishonorable death…but he has one chance to redeem his soul and enter Valhalla: to return to Earth in service to the goddess of death! As the living Sword of Hel, Grimarr encounters demons, evil warlords, and beautiful sword-maidens! Sword and sorcery in the tradition of Robert E. Howard!”
What a great synopsis and premise for a story. When this was revealed on social media, I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait for the release. I shared the news as far and wide as I could. Pro Se revealed the cover the next day which added to the anticipation. I wasn’t prepared for the letdown I was to experience.
The Sword of Hel is essentially five stories about Grimarr as The Sword of Hel. Each story is fairly short; the whole book is only 248 pages long. The last 47 pages were a chronological outline of Barry Reese’s Reese Unlimited universe. Until now I was unaware of the author, or this shared universe series, so this additional info was lost on me. This additional info also made the book seem padded.
The first story, The Dogs of War, recounts Grimarr’s pitiful death and his bargain with Hel to retrieve her property. To retrieve the bauble, Grimarr must fight not one demigod but two. This particular mission has a personal stake for Grimarr also, making him determined to attain vengeance.
While Grimarr’s death could be considered ‘dishonorable’ because it wasn’t in combat, I feel like that it’s misleading to label it as such. Also, the importance of Hel’s jewel is never made apparent and largely glossed over by the end of the story.
In the Name of Hel is the second story. Grimarr has been harassing the Iron Brigade, and its leader, Alviss, seeks Grimarr’s death. Grimarr and Alviss face off in a small village.
It Rises from Shadow is third. Grimarr finds himself caught between a dying King, an unscrupulous power-hungry Duke and a love spelled Princess.
The Frozen Fury is fourth. This was perhaps my favorite. Grimarr encounters a battlefield with the dead everywhere. Not from weapons of metal but from tooth and claw. An unexpected ally will fight by his side into the burrows of the serpentine Jargen to discover an existential threat from beyond their world.
The story ends on an odd note though. I know what he means in spirit, but it ruined the story for me.
“Someday he would cross paths with this woman again, he hoped…and on that day, he would see if he could remind her which of them was the man and which was the woman.”
The fifth and final story is called Heaven’s Fire. Grimarr is dispatched to seek out and neutralize an Ifrit. It has been released from captivity and has begun feeding. Between feedings the thing looks like an ordinary man. When the Ifrit takes up with a local death cult, Grimarr must take up allies of his own.
My favorite quote comes from this story. It is from an exchange between Grimarr and the Ifrit.
“What are you? Are you a living man…or the walking dead?”
“I am mortal. And that means that like all living men, I am the walking dead…for death waits for all of us around every corner. It creeps over us at night like a spider, laying its horrible eggs in our heart, draining us of the precious fluids of life. I have seen the goddess of death herself…I have felt her touch upon my shoulder…and I know what awaits us all. I am the Sword of Hel!”
Overall, I was largely dissatisfied with this collection. It was underwhelming to say the least. I loved it at first sight and sorely wanted to continue loving it as I read it, but it was not to be. Honestly it read like the author wanted to pen something that they had never sampled themselves. I was sold on the idea that Grimarr’s dishonor was something bad that he had done to merit punishment and redemption. I also assumed the book would concern the Viking world, but that too soon went afield. The stories were also short and clipped. I suppose this was to make them seem more pulp-like. The reality fell far short of expectation.
Sorry the book disappointed you, Richard! Hopefully you’ll try another of my works and enjoy that one a little better. Thanks for taking the time to review it!