Aydis is a viking, a warrior, an outcast, and a self-proclaimed heathen. Aydis is friend to the talking horse Saga, rescuer of the immortal Valkyrie Brynhild, and battler of demons and fantastic monsters. Aydis is a woman. Born into a time of warfare, suffering, and subjugation of women, she is on a mission to end the oppressive reign of the god-king Odin.
This book had me at ‘female Viking warrior’, to be honest. When I started reading Heathen, I was happier to learn that it is basically a story about a lesbian Viking warrior named Aydiswho gives a finger to the patriarchy and Odin. Oh, and it also retells Brynhildr’s story, with Aydis being the latest mortal to free her, in an attempt to prove to her clan (that cast her out for kissing a girl) that she is as brave as any male warrior. The main theme of the book is, you guessed it – fight the patriarchy. We also have appearances by Skull and Hati, who are the cutest wolfs to ever wolf, and can bring Ragnarok for all I care.
Aydis’s story, while starting out as a result of her realizing her sexuality and the fact that she lives in a world where queerness is considered unnatural, develops into a story about a brave warrior who sees that is wrong for anyone, even the god-king to dictate how a woman should live out her life. She promises to free Brynhild from her curse of marrying mortals and living out in exile till the end of the world. Brynhild, too, sees her bravery and is reinvigorated to defy Odin and his curse. There are the Valkyries, who are being held by Freya (for the meanwhile), who thinks they should not be just in the business of war. The mood is mostly dire but there are a few comic scenes involving Saga, Aydis’ horse.
The artwork looks rough-hewn and has frantic brush strokes, and usually I’m a fan of clean lines, but in this case, it lends a beautiful sense of dynamism to the storytelling, bringing out the action scenes in much more detail. The character design and costumes are also quite beautiful, and I loved the call out to the idea that Vikings have horned helmets.
As a whole, this is one feminist retelling I think a lot of people would like. Coupled with the interesting artwork and the brilliant story, I recommend this for fans of Norse mythology.
Content warning: due to partial nudity, not recommended for younger teens
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Vault Comics, via Edelweiss.