Shadowspeak by Raven Eckman Fox Pointe Publishing 2021

Rune has always spoken to shadows. They kept her company through a terrible childhood. Rune had a mother who ignored her, a father who was at times cruel and kind, and a brother who loved her but was still only a child himself. At the age of ten, Rune is sold to the brothel in the city of Vodihr by her father. Years later, after successfully fleeing the island with the help of her brother, Rune is called back to the place of her greatest trauma to help another.

This is my first review of a book from the 2021 Twin Cities Book Festival. I found this at the publisher’s table, but didn’t get a chance to meet with the author.

The best description of Shadowspeak is Darkly Beautiful. The first sections have a couple of large time jumps, and I knew I wasn’t getting the whole story. It is a nod to the writing to say despite knowing I was getting pieces I wasn’t frustrated, and was in fact hooked. You do have to trust things will be explained eventually, and it does fall into place. The protagonist is definitely an unreliable narrator, until she finds out what is actually going on.

After I was done, I wanted to read it again to catch how all the pieces fit together. Major events are explained, but there are some details you do have to work out for yourself. Shadowspeak isn’t as explicit as I thought it would be with a mature readers warning. Yes, it does deal in dark stuff. The first chapter is Rune being sold to the brothel and it doesn’t get lighter from there. But a lot is hinted at rather than shown. You don’t see Rune entertaining a client, but she talks of how she felt afterwards. There is some violence on the page, and a lot of child abuse, but I have definitely read worse in books that didn’t have a warning.

Shadowspeak’s world is full of Old Norse words and creatures. For once, there is a book heavily inspired by Norse culture that does not revolve around Ragnorak.  I definitely enjoy that aspect, but many Old Norse elements are used in horror, although it is revealed how they have been twisted in the end. There is talk that the Old Gods are dead, and the supernatural beings in the story don’t feel like gods to me because they are too focused.

I do have to set my polytheism aside to enjoy this story. Nature abhors vacuums, and it is never explained why the Old Gods left.  At one point Loki is mentioned, but I think that detracts from the story rather than adds to it. What took the gods place in Vodihr is something that doesn’t have humanity’s best interest at heart. The person who gained power and manipulates the city is greedy and twisted. Vodihr is said to keep the old ways, although it is revealed that what you see is a sick twisting of those traditions.  There is a glimpse of the good old ways, and I think I would have liked it better if the author had shown more of that. There is a hint that the horror we see on page is the twisting of the Old Ways and not the Old Ways themselves, but I wish there was much more than a hint.

While it is a traumatic and dark story Shadowspeak is beautifully told. Rune is able to see through the lies in the end, which makes this a story of triumph and not just tragedy. For a book with so much trauma there is joy in it, and a love story.

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