Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Linnea Hartsuyker.

About the author:

Linnea Hartsuyker is a graduate of NYU's Fiction MFA program and Cornell University's Engineering school, and has been researching the rise and reign of Harald Fairhair since she first discovered she was descended from him at the age of seventeen, when her family traced its ancestry back through 1200 years of Swedish and Norwegian church records. Since then she has read extensively of Icelandic sagas, kayaked and skied the fjordland settings for this novel, and even become proficient in lifting Husafjell stones, as the Vikings did to become stronger.

Linnea Hartsuyker is the author of The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen.

Click here to visit her official website.

About The Half-Drowned King:

Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family's land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather's betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in Viking-Age Norway, where a hundred petty rulers kill over parcels of land, and a prophesied high king is rising.

But where Ragnvald is expected to bleed, and even die, for his honour, Svanhild is simply expected to marry well. It's not a fate she relishes, and when the chance to leave her stepfather's cruelty comes at the hand of her brother's arch-rival, Svanhild is forced to make the ultimate choice: family or freedom.

Drawing from the Icelandic Sagas, The Half-Drowned King takes inspiration from the true story of Ragnvald of Maer, the right hand man of King Harald Fairhair, first king of all Norway, and his sister, Svanhild, as she tries to find freedom in a society where the higher her brother rises, the greater her worth as a political pawn.

About The Sea Queen:

The epic Viking saga begun in The Half-Drowned King continues with this exhilarating tale filled with the excitement, romantic adventure, political intrigue, violence, and rich history that have made Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology popular bestsellers.

Six years after The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald Eysteinsson is now king of Sogn, but fighting battles for King Harald keeps him away from home, as he confronts treachery and navigates a political landscape that grows more dangerous the higher he rises.

Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild has found the freedom and adventure she craves at the side of the rebel explorer Solvi Hunthiofsson, though not without a cost. She longs for a home where her quiet son can grow strong, and a place where she can put down roots, even as Solvi’s ambition draws him back to Norway’s battles again and keeps her divided from her brother.

As a growing rebellion unites King Harald’s enemies, Ragnvald suspects that some Norse nobles are not loyal to Harald’s dream of a unified Norway. He sets a plan in motion to defeat all of his enemies, and bring his sister back to his side, while Svanhild finds herself with no easy decisions, and no choices that will leave her truly free. Their actions will hold irrevocable repercussions for the fates of those they love and for Norway itself.

The Sea Queen returns to the fjords and halls of Viking-Age Scandinavia, a world of violence and prophecy, where honor is challenged by shifting alliances, and vengeance is always a threat to peace.

GUEST POST: Gods as Characters in Fantasy Novels by Linnea Hartsuyker

Gods are a problem in fiction. By the time Aristotle named the device deus ex machina—god out of the machine—it was already a critique, and even earlier, 411 BCE, Eurpides wrote plays that parodied gods saving heroes at the last moment. In literary fiction, God (or gods) are almost always consigned to the realm of belief, unknowable, and ineffable. But fantasy, as a genre, is able to explore the question of what would happen if gods were real—that is literal and able to intervene in daily life.

In the earliest fantasy novels—sorry, epic poetry—The Iliad and The Odyssey, gods are characters who strive against one another and affect the plot as much as the humans, but though they have more power than humans, they are not omnipotent. As Reza Aslan points out in God: A Human History, the Greek gods are what happens when gods take on so many aspects of humanity that they become almost indistinguishable from them, and become harder to worship because of that.

Every work of literature is, at some level, about what it means to be human. Gods, especially in fantasy novels, often act as heightened humans, struggling with survival, belonging, and meaning as humans do. In many fantasy novels, gods are not particularly distinguishable from super-powered humans with dominion over some aspect of the world. They are capricious and play favorites. Some are evil. Sometimes, as in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or Charles de Lint’s novels, they depend on the belief of humans to survive.

Gods and godlings are major characters in N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy. These are the kinds of gods that, while still vastly powerful creators of reality, also have very human concerns. Like many gods in fiction, Jemisin’s gods are rather static, and like powerful humans who resist change, that proves their downfall. Bright Itempas is the sun god, the god of daylight and order, who by his nature cannot admit he is wrong. Sieh is a child god who must grow up or die.

Much like in the Greek pantheon, the gods in The Inheritance Trilogy take on aspects of humanity, brought to their ultimate, destructive point. Perhaps the overall lesson of her gods is that no being can be only one thing and survive. Since most fictional gods are immortal or at least very hard to kill, one of their uses is to show a character that is not ruled by fate, but nonetheless must change or die.

In Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Divine Cities Trilogy, about fallen colonial powers, his gods are more remote. They act as a supernatural analogue for technological prowess. His gods, dead at the beginning of the trilogy, were the means by which a group of countries oppressed and exploited another set of countries. After the gods are killed in battle, some of their magic lingers, much like mines litter a battlefield after the battle is over.

Bennett’s gods stand for ideas as well. The first book, City of Stairs, uses the death of the gods, and the artifacts they left behind, to explore the uses and abuses of religion. This book tackles the problem that an involved, powerful deity can’t escape being a villain, at least to someone. If a god helps your sports team win, then he’s helped someone else’s fail. A god that does not fall into this trap has to cease to be a god entirely.

In the second book, City of Blades, Bennet explores the uses of war and violence in a country that worshipped the goddess of war. He also proposes a literal afterlife that traps the bodies and souls of this goddess’s dead, and the horror that might ensue in a literal afterlife. Indeed, one of the inescapable conclusions in the The Divine Cities Trilogy is that literal, interventionist deities cannot help but be horrifying.

Mike Carey’s Lucifer series of graphic novels is one of my all-time favorite piece of literature. In it, Lucifer has abandoned hell after 6 million years, and is choosing a new path. He is another god-like being who is incapable of change, because even though he makes surface changes, he is always proud, uncompromising, and rebellious. The books explore Judeo-Christian and other mythologies, and invent new ones, while Lucifer struggles with a problem that even a nearly omnipotent being cannot escape: he cannot be his own creator. Lucifer cannot bear the fact that God created him and gave him a purpose, and that everything he is comes from his creator.

This is a totally different, yet still incredibly fruitful way of using the idea of gods and an all-powerful creator God to tackle the central problem of growing up and establishing one’s self as an adult. If Lucifer cannot escape his creator, who can? At the same time, it explores the question of whether a literal, all-powerful God can exist and not be a villain (theodicy) very differently from Bennett’s work. Lucifer shows, as does Bennett’s trilogy, what happens when a creator gets too involved with their own creation–it is even more dangerous and destructive than not getting involved at all, and so an all-powerful God must be very remote.

Gods are a problem in fiction, but the best kind, a generative problem that lets us examine human problems by presenting them from a different angle. They let us explore the horror of getting our way, and the horror of being opposed by an overwhelmingly powerful force, the pain of being fate’s plaything, and the pain of being doomed by one’s own choices. The fantasy genre, with its freedom to create a new world with new rules, is the perfect playground for gods old and new.

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