Ready for an adventure including a fierce Valkyrie amidst a gathering of mythical creatures from around the globe? Today, thanks in part to the Between the Blade and the Heart blog tour, I can give you my thoughts on the book and a Q&A with the author, Amanda Hocking.
Published: 2 January 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Category: Fantasy/Young Adult
When the fate of the world is at stake
Loyalties will be tested
Game of Thrones meets Blade Runner in this commanding new YA fantasy inspired by Norse Mythology from New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking.
As one of Odin’s Valkyries, Malin’s greatest responsibility is to slay immortals and return them to the underworld. But when she unearths a secret that could unravel the balance of all she knows, Malin along with her best friend and her ex-girlfriend must decide where their loyalties lie. And if helping the blue-eyed boy Asher enact his revenge is worth the risk—to the world and her heart.
Rating: 3 Stars
Going into this book and based off the description, I thought the basis for the supernatural creatures would be Norse, given that Valkyrie are one of the most famous facets of that pantheon. However, from the offset the mythology seemed to be a bit of a compilation. I noticed when Malin said the immortals slain by Valkyrie go to Kurnugia. Not familiar with the term I looked it up and it’s not from Norse mythology but rather Sumerian. It does still refer to an underworld but readers should be aware that it’s not Norse the way Odin and the Valkyrie are.
Beings from other religions are also included, such as Samael (Talmudic lore) or creatures like pontianaks (female vampiric beings from Malaysian/Indonesian folklore). It made it a strange reading experience when it seemed like a lot of importance was placed in these women of Norse mythology, but also throwing in elements of other times and places.
It’s not so much that I mind different pantheons blending; the Percy Jackson universe is an example of it being done well. However, when the book seems unaware of it’s multifaceted nature and absorbs these elements rather than acknowledging them, it interrupts the reading experience because I continually have the feeling that I need to check a reference to see where a new element came from.
Malin was hard to feel sympathy for initially, as she was very content to be boxed in by her Valkyrie blood, even stating herself that it takes over at times and makes her crave the kills/”returns” of immortals. Her lack of agency and mannerisms felt stilted.
The romantic aspects of the book were varied. Her love interests/partners were complicated and some were sweet, such as the Cambion Jude (son of an incubus and human) on the sweet side and complicated AF in regards to Quinn, fellow Valkyrie and ex-girlfriend. However, I got this feeling that there were some subtle digs at aromantic people. When Malin and her roommate Oona were discussing Malin’s ex and her current hookup, there was some digging in Oona’s part about how Valkyries could totally fall in love, nothing in the books that said they couldn’t. While not vocalized, Malin said some things internally that led to my thinking she was aromantic/bisexual.
I’m not clear on when or where this book takes place. The feel I get from the writing leads me to believe present day, but then there are things like hover bikes and such that point to the future. Also, how well known are supernatural creatures? Most of the time it seemed like the human populace was unaware, but then Malin visits a bar where she points out that regulars patronize the place whether they’re human or otherwise and no indication is given that the physical differences (horns, etc) are noticed. Also, Oona is apparently a student at the same school as Malin, training in thaumaturgy, and she works at a bodega that sells some talismans and what not. Human awareness seems to fluctuate a lot and it was hard to grasp what kind of world this was for them.
Then there’s the geographical location. Many places are mentioned that are quite a distance from each other, like Shibuya, the Gold Coast, and Tanzania. I think this book takes place in Australia because of the Gold Coast being an hour away from the HQ where Malin gets her assignments, but it’s never really clear.
There were some issues with pacing and fleshing out of the events that I actually did like. The story line was there and I liked it well enough, but there also seemed to be something missing, something to give it that oomph that really sets a book apart. Aside from that, Between the Blade and the Heart was enjoyable enough and was interesting in that it got me to look up the different mythological beings that showed up. A lead to further reading, entertaining, and magical, not bad. I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequel next year, but I might pick it up at the library.
About Amanda Hocking
Amanda Hocking is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.
Q&A with Amanda Hocking
Q: What or who was the inspiration behind Between the Blade and the
A: I have already written several books inspired by Scandinavian folklore, and
I was always fascinated by Valkyries. But because I had already done in
Scandinavian fantasy, I wanted to come at this one from a different angle. I
imagined the Valkyries helping to police a gritty, diverse, cyberpunk
metropolis, in a world filled with not just Norse figures but from many
Q: What are the life lessons that you want readers to glean from your book?
A: That love is a strength, not a weakness.
Q: If you were given the chance to go on a date with one of your characters,
who would you choose and what would you do together?
A: Oona. She doesn’t swing that way, but since I’m married anyway, it would
be a friendship date. I think it would be fun to go to an apothecary with her
and have her show me around the magic. Or maybe just veg out and watch
Q: Would the essence of your novel change if the main protagonist were
A: Yes, it would be changed dramatically. For one, Valkyries are women. But I
also think the book explores the relationships between mothers and
daughters, and friendships between young women.
Q: What is your definition of true love in YA literature?
A: There has to be passion and desire – not necessarily anything physical,
but so much of young love is about yearning. But I also think that true love is
based on mutual respect and selflessness.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be an author/start
A: My biggest piece of advice is to just write. It’s so easy to get caught up in
self-doubt or procrastination. There are lot of great books and blogs about the
art of writing, but the most important thing is really to just do it. The best way
to get better at writing is by doing it.
Q: What’s one book you would have no trouble rereading for the rest of your
A: It would be a toss up between Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and Cat’s
Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve read both of those books a dozen times
already, at least, and I never get sick of them.
Q: How did you name your characters? Are they based on people you know
in real life?
A: It’s combination of names I like and taking inspiration from the world itself.
With Between the Blade and the Heart, the names were inspired both by the
mythology they come from – many Valkyries have Norse names like Malin,
Teodora, and Freya, for example – and the futuristic setting of the book, so I
wanted names that seemed a bit cooler and just slightly different than the
ones we use now.
Q: Alright, Amanda, I know you’re a movie buff. What are some movies your
characters would pick as their all-time favorites?
A: That’s a tough one. Malin – The Crow, Oona – Pan’s Labyrinth, Quinn –
Wonder Woman, Asher – Inception, and Marlow – Twelve Monkeys.
Q: Which mythological character is the most like you?
A: Demeter, because she’s pretty dramatic – she basically kills all the plants
in the world when her daughter goes missing – but she’s also determined,
and will stop at nothing to protect those she cares about.
Q: Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
A: Oona or Bowie. Oona because she’s so practical, supportive, and
determined, and Bowie because he’s adorable.
Q: What is your favorite scene and why?
A: I don’t know if there is one particular scene that I loved more than the
others, but I really enjoyed writing about the city that Malin lives in and all the
creatures that inhabit it.
Q: What cities inspired the urban haven where the Valkyries live?
A: I was really obsessed with this idea of an overpopulated metropolis, and so
I took a lot of inspiration from some of the biggest cities in the world,
particularly Tokyo, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Manila. The city itself is actually
a sort of futuristic, alternate reality of Chicago (one of my favorite cities in the
world), and I wanted to incorporate that into it as well.
Q: What came first: The world, the mythology, or the characters?
A: I usually say the characters come first, and the world builds around it. But
for this one, it really was the world that drew me into it. I knew I was writing
about a young woman who was a Valkyrie, but that about all when I began
building up the world and the mythology.
Q: I love that these characters are in college. What inspired this choice?
A: Because of the complex relationship Malin has with her mother, I knew I
wanted some distance between them, so I thought putting her in college,
living away from her mom, was a good way to do it. Plus, I thought it would be
fun to explore the all the supernatural training that would be needed to do these specialized jobs that come up in a world where every mythological creature exists.
Q: What songs would you include if you were to make a soundtrack for the
A: This is my favorite question! I love creating soundtracks that I listen to
while writing a book, and here are some of my favorite tracks from my
Between the Blade and the Heart playlist: Annie Lennox – “I Put a Spell on
You,” Daniel Johns – “Preach,” Halsey – “Trouble (stripped),” Meg Myers –
“Sorry (EthniKids Remix),” and MYYRA – “Human Nature.”
Q: Was this book always planned as a series or did that develop afterwards?
A: It was always planned as a duology. I don’t want to go into too much or risk
spoiling the second book, but I had this idea that one book would be above,
and the other below.
Q: Your novels and characters are so layered. How do you stay organized
while plotting/writing? Do you outline, use post-it notes, make charts, or
A: All of the above! This one was the most intensive as far as research and
note taking goes, and I also had maps, glossaries, and extensive lists of
various mythologies. I think I ended up with thirteen pages of just Places and
Things. I do a lot of typed notes, but I also do handwritten scribbles (which
can sometimes be confusing to me later on when I try to figure out what they
mean. I once left myself a note that just said “What are jelly beans?”) For this
one, I really did have to have lots of print outs on hand that I could look to
Q: You’ve said that pop culture and the paranormal both influence your
writing. How do these things intersect for you?
A: In a way, I think they’re both about how humans choose to interpret and
define the world that surrounds us. So many mythologies come from humans
trying to make sense of the seasons and the chaos of existence, and even
though we’ve moved past a lot of the scientific questions, pop culture is still
tackling our existence. Even when looking at shows made for kids, like Pixar,
they handle a lot of difficult concepts, like what it means to love someone
else, how to be a good friend, facing your fears, and overcoming loss. These
are things that mythologies and stories have been going over for centuries.
Q: Did you choose the title first, or write the book then choose the title?
A: It depends on the book, but I will say with this one that it took a very, very
long time to come up with a title. It was already written and edited, and we
were still bouncing around different names.
Q: How many more books can we expect in “Between the Blade and the
A: One more! From the Earth to the Shadows will be out in April 2018.
Q: What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you
handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)?
A: I don’t want to say too much or risk spoiling it, but there’s a scene near the
end of the book where a confrontation leaves Malin reeling. I wrote it in an
almost present tense, stream-of- consciousness way because I thought that
was the best way to capture the raw intensity of her emotions.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of a blog tour in exchange for an honest review.