I picked up Adrienne Young’s debut novel Sky in the Deep about a week ago because the cover, featuring a beautiful young warrior wielding a battle axe, caught my eye. I thought to myself, Gee, if this book is good, I bet my friend would love this, what with her Viking-inspired dnd character. I told the dnd group chat of my find, and I agreed to read the book and let everyone know if it’s any good.
I finished it in three days, and promptly alerted the chat that this book is fantastic and well worth reading.
Sky in the Deep is the story of a 17 year old Aska warrior named Eelyn who has been raised to hold a deep hatred for the Riki, a clan the Aska have been fighting since their civilizations began. Every five years, the two clans meet in battle to honor the wills of their gods. Eelyn, eager to finally get vengeance for the death of her brother Iri, is shaken to her core when she sees something impossible: Iri, alive and well, wearing the armor of her enemy on the battlefield. She follows him, and is taken captive by the Riki. Eelyn’s journey into enemy territory forces her to question everything she thought she knew. When the Riki and the Aska clans are faced with a common enemy, Eelyn and her brother will help decide the fate of their people.
I really enjoy the characters in this story. Eelyn is fantastic protagonist who is stubborn, willful, and full of fire. She’s a badass who earned her way onto the frontlines in battle, and she’s fiercely loyal to her people and her last remaining family: her fierce and loving father, Aghi. I’m usually not a big fan of first person perspective in fiction, but I quite like Eelyn’s voice, and being so close to her thoughts and emotions really serves this story.
My second favorite, okay, no, probably first favorite, is Halvard, a precious little bean of a six year old Riki who wormed his way into my heart just as he does the same to Eelyn. Fiske is a Riki warrior who is a fantastic antagonist turned ally who both endangers Eelyn and saves her life many times in the story, and I love how their relationship parallels Eelyn’s changing attitude toward the Riki. Other significant characters include Myra, Eelyn’s fighting partner, who is just as fierce and cracked inside as Eelyn (I totally shipped the two of them from page one) and Inge, Fiske and Halvard’s mother, and Iri’s adoptive Riki mother. This wouldn’t be the same book without her steady, compassionate presence.
I was a little surprised by how quickly the story pulled me in. The plot itself is relatively simple, without too many twists, but the intensity of Eelyn’s quest to get herself home to her people after she’s taken is enthralling. She is desperate, willing to do whatever it takes to return to her father and best friend, who likely think that she was killed in battle by the Riki.
As she learns how her brother Iri came to be part of the Riki clan, Eelyn is at war with herself as much as she is with her captors, who happen to be the family that took Iri in as their own. Some of the chapters encompass short, domestic scenes where not a whole lot seems to happen externally, but because we’re inside Eelyn’s head, we can see the storm building inside of her. I appreciate those chapters just as much as the more action-packed chapters where Eelyn takes big, stupid risks.
I also enjoyed the world-building of this novel. Young beautifully integrates the belief systems of the Viking people into the story, and she highlights the importance of their gods and attaining a place in the afterlife by living honorably. There is just a pinch of the fantastical in this story, created through beautiful, stark descriptions, and the usage of religious symbolism. The gods feels very much alive and watchful of Eelyn.
The themes of this book are beautiful, and super relevant in today’s world. The main struggle that Eelyn grapples with is one very simple truth: The Riki are not all that different from the Aska. This book asks big questions about what it means to understand and befriend one’s enemy—particularly when said enemies have been at war for generations upon generations. What kind of stakes would it take for sworn enemies to join sides, and what does it look like to begin building peace when so much blood has been spilled? What does it mean to love your enemy, even after you’ve done so much violence to each other?
Sky in the Deep doesn’t shy away from these questions, and, by the way, I am in love with the book’s title and the scene that explains its significance. It’s stunning.
If you want to read a YA book about Vikings, fierce women, frigid winters, and a love story that transcends the bonds of war, this story is for you.
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.