Too Wyrd by Sarah Buhrman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was requested to review this book by the author, Sarah Buhrman, a friendly acquaintance of mine from a mutual Facebook group.
To the modern Pagan, magic doesn’t work like it does in the movies. Or in the sagas. Or the Eddas. A modern Pagan who practices magic believes that they are bending probabilities. For example, if one were to do a spell for more money, that money might arrive in the form of an inheritance, a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk, or a raise at work. It will take the path of least resistance and the laws of physics remain intact. There will not be any literal pennies falling from heaven.
Nicola, the protagonist of Too Wyrd, is a modern Heathen witch, meaning that she follows the Norse gods and practices in a Norse tradition. But she believes in magic in the form of sensing energy and the laws of physics remaining intact. So imagine her shock and surprise when stuff starts happening all around her that suggest that someone is capable of violating the laws of physics with magic, and all that stuff that was in the Eddas – Odin, Valkyries, Huginn and Munin, and runespells that alter the very fabric of reality – are actually, literally, real.
Oh yes, and someone is trying to start Ragnarok (which, most people probably know by now from The Avengers, is the Norse end of the world.) And someone has started a doomsday cult that has sucked in a person that she cares about and feels responsible for. And that someone is her ex.
The end result is a fabulous romp that is at times funny, exciting, and even a little scary, that comes across something like Jim Butcher‘s The Dresden Files meets American Gods. Nicola is a delightfully human, delightfully believable heroine with a sarcastic wit that kept me grinning through the whole book. She has flaws and those flaws sometimes bite her in the ass. She acts like a real person when confronted with the craziness that invades her reality, and the laws of physics continually apply, even when confronted with typical genre tropes; except when they don’t, and then that confuses and horrifies all the normal people who witness and experience it. This grounded, gritty approach sells the supernatural elements completely.
Practicing Pagans will find an extra layer of love for this book, in that Nicola’s experience with the Pagan community, the Heathen faith, and the practice of magic, will remind us of our own experiences. I find myself wondering how much of the book is autobiographical? I don’t know Sarah Buhrman well enough to know, other than I’m fairly sure that she’s a Heathen witch. Her way of dealing with some of the supernatural beings in the story is very Pagan, too; from muttering, “Oh, shit,” when Odin shows up at her door, to explaining to a Valkyrie why magic isn’t always a gift, to being a little horrified but not entirely surprised when the Valkyrie identifies herself in the first place. I like the way she portrayed the supernatural characters in the book as well, but perhaps that’s just because that’s more or less how I picture them, and that could be because as a Pagan myself, I’m plugged into the same sub-cultural factors that influence her. I do wonder if, perhaps, some of its Pagan and mythic elements might have been unclear to someone who is not as familiar with all of that as I am, but I don’t think I’m a good judge because to me, it was crystal clear. (And incidentally, the title is really clever. Very punny.)
I do have some critiques. I guess the biggest one is that, like many self-published books, this one could have benefited from a professional edit. There were little mistakes that probably only bother me because I’m a writer. Minor mistakes in grammar or tense on occasion, slight contextual inconsistencies, that kind of thing. It’s not a deal breaker (some self-published books are horribly edited; this is NOT one of those books!) but I think it kept this good story from becoming great.
The second is that I would have liked to see more direct interaction between the protagonist and her daughter. Being a single mom is a point of identity for Nicola, and so seeing her being a mom would have fleshed out the character in a way that I would have appreciated, and made me care quite a lot for the fate of that little girl named Ella, which is potentially at risk. By necessity most of that was offscreen (Nicola, quite reasonably, kept her daughter completely out of the danger and chaos) but even when there were opportunities to see that relationship and interaction, they weren’t used. The same could be said of Nicola’s relationship with her mother, which is obviously very close because she’s able to leave her daughter with her mother for a week and no one considers this to be anything other than par for the course. This is the first book in a series so I hope we’ll be seeing more of them in the next couple of books, and getting an idea of who they are as people.
The third is just a minor thing, and that is that every heterosexual man in the piece seems to vary from kind of a jerk to a grade A asshat. I am a forty-something, five-foot-tall feminist bisexual Pagan nerd; believe me, I know that some of them can be. But all of them? Granted, many of them have redeemable qualities that are displayed in the end. On the other hand, I do rather enjoy the fact that not one, but two of the major characters, are gay men. One of those characters is Nicola’s best friend and companion through the whole adventure, and both of these characters have very different personalities that challenge stereotyping. And I suppose there’s only so many characters in a novel (unless you’re George R.R. Martin,) so I guess there’s got to be a trade-off somewhere.
Despite my criticisms, this book did exactly what a good book is supposed to do. It held my attention, kept me turning the pages, and called me back to it to read it for the joy of doing so. I liked the characters, I enjoyed the plot, and above all, I’m interested enough in the story that I’m going to read the rest of the series. It’s a quick and easy read compared to some of the other things I’ve read too, so it goes quickly and is perfect for on the bus or just before bed (unless you have to be up early, because yes, I did spend an hour longer than I should have reading it when I had to work in the morning, so I suppose that tells you something.) All in all I would say that if you enjoy a good urban fantasy, you will probably enjoy Too Wyrd.