We’ve all heard of “Beowulf.” Some of us may even remember Grendel or his much scarier mother. While Beowulf is considered one of the first heroes, most people don’t realize that we don’t even know his whole story. Everything we know of Beowulf comes from a few small scraps of his story that have been found. Most of his tale is lost. Sharon Emmerichs has tried to imagine some of the story that we’re missing. The result is Shield Maiden, a tale of a young woman just beginning to realize her true power, both in battle and love.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Redhook for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Shield Maiden contains some spoilers!]
An ancient tale with a new focus from Sharon Emmerichs
“Beowulf” is at least 1,000 years old. That is when it was first written down. But many experts think that it is much older than that. It chronicles all the amazing feats that Beowulf accomplished, culminating in his death after fighting a dragon as an old man.
There are plenty of holes and nameless faces in a story this old, and Emmerichs starts by focusing on the unnamed slave that finds the goblet, thus awakening the dreaded dragon that ends Beowulf. But as hard as she tried to write his story, the women around him kept pushing to the front of her narrative. Finally, she gave in to the call and wrote her story about Fryda, Beowulf’s niece. And we’re all better off for it!
Fryda is the daughter of a Viking lord and all she wants is to be a shield maiden. But her father is dead set against it. So Fryda decides to prove that she is worthy of the honor. She sneaks out of the burh (think village) in the early morning to track and kill a wolf that has been bothering the burh.
But just as Fryda finds the wolf’s trail, there’s an earthquake! She falls into a newly created canyon, snagging her arm in a crevice. Her stuck arm stops her from falling to her death, but she’s severely injured and can’t escape.
After hanging for more than a day, searchers finally find her. The healers do their best, but there’s no fixing her hand. And just like that, her dream of being a shield maiden seems dead.
Fryda still dreams of being a shield maiden
Now, Fryda is a young woman. Her hand is crippled, but she doesn’t let that stop her from privately training to be a shield maiden. Her father considers the question moot, but Fryda holds out hope. And now her Uncle Beowulf, the king, is coming to visit the burh to celebrate fifty years of his rule. Fryda plans on appealing directly to him. If he grants her request to be a shield maiden, there’s nothing her father can do about it.
But before Fryda can make her move, someone else makes a move. A sinister move. Fryda is attacked in her room. The attackers are killed, but they hint at a larger conspiracy. Fryda tries to tell her father, but he won’t listen to her, he actually blames her for the attack!
Besides her father’s infuriating stance, something else about the attack bothers Fryda. She seemed to have too much strength during the attack. Even more than what adrenaline could account for. Could it somehow be connected to her Uncle Beowulf’s legendary strength?
Shield Maiden is a great story for a great character
Fryda is a great character. She is very kind and doesn’t see status or titles when she looks at others, she sees people. It makes life a little difficult for those around her in some ways because she doesn’t understand the limitations that come with some of their positions in the burh.
She is the lord’s daughter, she can do basically whatever she wants. But the servants and slaves don’t have the same freedoms, and Fryda doesn’t always remember that. When it’s pointed out, she vows to change things once she’s named the lady of the burh. Even with the difficult positions she sometimes puts them in, you can see how much it means to those around her that she actually sees them.
Part of why she treats them so differently is that she feels less than. For all her sweetness and kindness, Fryda has a real lack of confidence caused by the way she’s been treated ever since her injury. It gives her compassion and a depth that she might otherwise not have developed, and makes her a more compelling character.
The journey she goes through to find her inner strength, both physically and mentally, is exciting and heartwarming. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering Fryda and her secrets, and I think most of you fantasy readers out there will too. Maybe a little dragon magic is involved, but the most important strength comes from Fryda herself!
My Rating: 8/10
Shield Maiden by Sharon Emmerichs is available now from Redhook! Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you plan on reading this exciting novel!