It's the release day for Sky in the Deep! In honor of this Very Happy Day, and to distract myself from running out to buy a second copy of this book (but this time hardcover!) this very second, I'm dedicating yet another post (and it's a long one!) to this wonderful book that I encourage you to go out and buy ASAP. As if the cover wasn't enough to encourage you to do that already.
Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient, god-decreed rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: train to fight and fight to survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.
Eelyn loses her focus and is captured. Now, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan settling in the valley, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.
She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend who tried to kill her the day she was captured. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and find a way to forgive her brother while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.
1. What inspired SKY IN THE DEEP? How did the idea and Eelyn come to you? Do you have any favorite Viking stories?
The sibling betrayal was definitely the first inspiration for this story. I was driving in the pouring rain on this country road and that first scene just hit me - Eelyn, seeing her brother on the battlefield after thinking that he was dead for five years. I pulled over on the side of the road and scribbled a million notes on an old envelope. I was immediately hooked to the idea and I wanted to know what had happened. I started writing that first chapter and I just never stopped.
2. What type of research did you do for your characters and world-building? What languages did you study to implement the languages that the Aska and the Riki speak? What was the strangest thing you had to research for this book?
I did a ton of research for this story. I actually really love to research things so it was a lot of fun. A lot of it was stuff like clothing, landscape, weapons, food, etc. But I did a lot of research into Norse mythology as well to build a foundation for this world. The language used is Old Norse, but it’s a dead language so studying it was really difficult. There is a lot of controversy about it among scholars and there’s no real way to fully understand it, so I just did my best based on my own investigation. I’m definitely not an expert! The weirdest thing I had to research was how to tear out someone’s eyeball. Yuck.
3. What was your writing process like for SKY IN THE DEEP?
Complete and utter obsession. When I draft, I get really buried in the world and I don’t really come up for air until I get to the end. I write as much as I can and limit my intake of other influencers that could mess with my mindset. I don’t watch TV or movies or listen to music that’s not on my playlist, and I kind of don’t have a social life until it’s done.
4. What was your hardest scene to write? What was the easiest?
I really didn’t struggle to get this story on the page the way I have with other books so I really don’t know what the hardest scene to write was. But the easiest was the first chapter. I wrote it so fast and it just clicked in so perfectly.
5. Which of your characters are you the most like? Who was your favorite to write?
Eelyn! We have so much in common and she really inspires me. But I think Halvard was the most fun to write. I really, really love him.
6. Do you have a soundtrack for SKY IN THE DEEP? Can you share a couple songs? What would Eelyn’s favorite song be?
Yes! Music plays a HUGE role in my writing process and I have a playlist for every project. The ones I probably listened to the most while drafting SKY are To the Hills by Laurel, Bare by Wildes, and Rise Up – Reprise by Foxes. But a link to the whole playlist is on my site!
7. What books have inspired you to write? What books are you looking forward to reading this year?
The ones that inspired me to write are nothing like my books. One of the most influential ones for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because the human element is so beautiful and the author explores so many things in that book that really took my breath away. I wanted to write stories that went deep like that, but I love fantasy so I try to it within that realm.
8. Any advice on querying? Or writing advice for aspiring writers?
Querying – do not just sign with any agent who will take you. Make a dream agent list of qualified agents who have good reputations and make consistent sales. Query them. If they don’t bite, then write another book that they might want. Believe me when I say it is worth waiting for the right agent!
9. Any details about the companion novel?
I can’t say anything about the companion novel yet! But I’m hoping that we can start talking about it soon because I am really excited about it!
“I saw him. I saw Iri.”
He wrapped the torn cloth around my arm, tying it tight. “What are you talking about?”
I pushed his hands from me, crying. “Listen to me! Iri was
here! I saw him!”
His hands finally stilled, confusion lighting in his eyes. “I was fighting a man. He was about to...” I shuddered,
remembering how close to death I’d come—closer than I’d ever been.“ Iri came out of the fog and saved me. He was with the Riki.” I stood, taking his hand and pulling him toward the tree line.“ We have to find him!”
But my father stood like a stone tucked into the earth. His face turned up toward the sky, his eyes blinking against the sunlight.
“Do you hear me? Iri’s alive!” I shouted, holding my arm against my body to calm the violent throbbing around the gash.
His eyes landed on me again, tears gathered at the cor-ners like little white flames. “Sigr. He sent Iri’s soul to save you, Eelyn.”
“Iri’s made it to Sólbjǫrg.” His words were frightening and delicate, betraying a tenderness my father never showed. He stepped forward, looking down into my eyes with a smile. “Sigr has favored you, Eelyn.”
Mýra stood behind him, her green eyes wide beneath her unraveling auburn braids.
“But—” I choked. “I saw him.”
“You did.” A single tear rolled down my father’s rough cheek and disappeared into his beard. He pulled me into him, wrapping his arms around me, and I closed my eyes, the pain in my arm so great now that I could hardly feel my hand.
I blinked, trying to understand. I had seen him. He was
“We will make a sacrifice tonight.” He let me go before he pressed his hands to my face again. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you scream for me like that. You scared me, sváss.” A laugh was buried deep in his chest.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I just...I thought...”
He waited for me to meet his eyes again. “His soul is at peace. Your brother saved your life today. Be happy.” He clapped a hand against my good arm, nearly knocking me down.
I wiped at my wet cheeks with the palm of my hand, turn-ing from the faces that were still watching me. There were very few times I’d cried in front of my clansmen. It made me feel small. Weak, like the early winter grass beneath our boots.
I sniffed back the tears, piecing my face back together as my father nodded in approval. It was what he had taught me—to be strong. To steel myself. He turned back to the field, getting to work, and I followed with Mýra, trying to smooth my ragged breath. To hush the waves crashing in my head. We walked toward our camp, collecting the weapons of fallen Aska warriors along the way. I watched my father from the corner of my eye, still unable to shake Iri’s face from my mind.
My feet stopped at the edge ofa puddle and I looked at my reflection. Dirt spattered across my angled face and neck. Blood dried in long, golden braids. Eyes a frozen blue, like Iri’s. I sucked in a breath, looking up to the thin white clouds brushed across the sky to keep another tear from falling.
“Here,” Mýra called to me from where she was crouched over an Aska woman. She was lying on her side, eyes open and arms extended like she was reaching for us.
I carefully unbuckled her belt and scabbard, piling them with the others before I started on the armor vest. “Did you know her?”
“A little.” Mýra reached down to close the woman’s eyes with her fingertips. She gently brushed the hair back from her face before she began, the words coming softly. “Aska, you have reached your journey’s end.”
In the next breath, I joined with her, saying the ritual words we knew by heart. “We ask Sigr to accept your soul into Sólbjǫrg, where the long line of our people hold torches on the shadowed path.”
My voice faded, letting Mýra speak first. “Take my love to my father and my sister. Ask them to keep watch for me. Tell them my soul follows behind you.”
I closed my eyes as the prayer found a familiar place on my tongue. “Take my love to my mother and my brother. Ask them to keep watch for me. Tell them my soul follows behind you.”
I swallowed down the lump in my throat before I opened my eyes and looked down into the woman’s peaceful face one more time. I hadn’t been able to say the words over Iri’s body the way I had when my mother died, but Sigr had taken him anyway.
“Have you ever seen something like that before?” I whis-pered. “Something that wasn’t real?”
Mýra blinked. “It was real. Iri’s soul is real.”
“But he was older—a man. He spoke to me. He touched
She stood, shifting an armful of axes up onto her shoul-der. “I was there that day, Eelyn. Iri died. I saw it with my own eyes. That was real.” It was the same battle that took Mýra’s sister. We’d been friends before that day, but we hadn’t really needed each other until then.
I remembered it so clearly—the picture of him like a re-flection on ice. Iri’s lifeless body at the bottom of the trench. Lying across the perfect white snow, blood seeping out around him in a melted pool. I could still see his blond hair fanned out around his head, his empty eyes wide open and staring into nothing.
Mýra reached up, squeezing my shoulder. “Then you know it wasn’t Iri—not his flesh.”
I nodded, swallowing hard. I prayed for Iri’s soul every day. If Sigr had sent him to protect me, he really was in Sólbjǫrg—our people’s final sunset. “I knew he would make it.” I breathed through the tightness in my throat.
“We all did.”A small smile lifted on her lips.
I looked back down to the woman lying between us. We would leave her as she was—as she died—with honor. Like we did with all our fallen warriors.
Like we’d left Iri.
“Was he as handsome as he was before?” Mýra’s smile turned wry as her eyes flickered back up to meet mine.
“He was beautiful,” I whispered.
Reading this book was like being chucked headfirst into a fantasy world with no warning. At first you have no idea what is going on, but then you find yourself pulled into the story and the world. Hours later, you’ve finished the book and haven’t done any of your assignments, and are too excited to sleep (at least, that’s how I was).
The book follows Eelyn, a warrior of the Aska clan. She’s been raised her entire life learning to fight and hate the Riki, one of the rival clans. Her mother died many years ago during a raid, and her brother died 5 years ago fighting the Riki, ending up in a ditch with his stomach cut open. Except one day, on the battlefield, she realizes that her brother isn’t dead—and he’s fighting with the enemy. After her capture, Eelyn becomes stuck between her alive-again brother, now one of the Riki, and the culture that she has been raised in for her entire life, as well as the family that she has left behind.
When I saw I got approved for this book on NetGalley I was so excited, but also kind of nervous. I had heard so many good things about this book, and the last thing I wanted was to have too high of expectations, and have a wonderful book disappoint me just because I was expecting too much. I needn’t have worried, however. This book took every expectation I had, looked at it with utter disdain, and then destroyed it. Strong, independent protagonist? Check. Interesting characters that I could connect to, and that I could root for? Double check. Amazing premise, with a great underlying message, all set in an amazing world? Check x100.
I loved Eelyn. Female protagonists are normally pretty hit-or-miss for me, as they are either super strong and wonderful, or they just sit around complaining and waiting for a man to save them. Eelyn definitely falls in the first category, as she runs around swinging an axe and a sword, slaying her enemies and just proving in general that she doesn’t rely on anyone to protect her. I was also a huge fan of her relationships with her clan, since it was like she had one gigantic family. She was independent, but she also didn’t spurn others just because she could. One of the things I liked a lot was that her reactions were pretty in-line with what I think realistic reactions would be to these scenarios. She wasn’t a completely flopping-fish mess, but she wasn’t entirely rational either, which makes sense. Her dead brother is no longer dead—if she had just shrugged and gone along with it I would have questioned what was going on. But her actions were just irrational enough to make me feel the same emotions that she was, yet not so outlandish that I scratched my head, wondering what was going on
I also loved the message that was present in this book. The blurb is pretty descriptive, so I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say that Eelyn starts falling in love with Fiske, and is confronted with the question: clan, or Fiske? I don’t want to spoil how it turns out, but I think it approaches the idea that where a person is from or what they look like doesn’t define who they are inside. I love myself an awesome book with a great message, and this was definitely one!
My only complaint is minor, and it’s that the romance with Fiske seemed a little awkward or forced at times, but in the whole scheme of things it really didn’t bother me too much. It was more of a passing thought that I ignored almost immediately.
This was such a good book. I loved the world, the characters, the plot, everything about it. I flew through it so fast that I didn’t even take notes when I was reading like I normally do (oops) because it was just too interesting to put down. I know this is a stand-alone, but if a companion book ever surfaces I’ll be on it in a heartbeat!
Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy of Sky in the Deep through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way impacted my rating, review, or opinion of this book.