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Black Shield Maiden

Black Shield Maiden, May 2024
by Jess Hendel, Willow Smith

Del Rey
Featuring: Freydis; Yafeu; Alvtir
ISBN: 059335673X
EAN: 9780593356739
Kindle: 059335673X
Hardcover / e-Book
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"A young woman is thrust into the world of Vikings"

Fresh Fiction Review

Black Shield Maiden
Jess Hendel, Willow Smith

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted May 3, 2024

Multicultural Historical | Fantasy Historical

This powerful and sweeping tale is a fantasy based on history, a culture clash, and an examination of the bonds of loyalty. Yafeu is a young woman who is to become a BLACK SHIELD MAIDEN, but not in her homeland in Africa. Growing up in the Ghanaian Empire, she learns to make weapons from her father, who then leaves to gain rich rewards with his skill. The family gets by until a band of callous slave merchants descends, separating the family members and setting Yafeu on a long, lonely journey.  

During a raid by Vikings on a far coastline, Princess Alvtir captures goods and takes Yafeu as the spoils of war. Alvtir is a fascinating character. She is thought to be cursed and has been made a captain with companion shield maidens, mainly to keep her away from the line of succession. As the Norse king’s sister, she can do what she likes, provided she stays loyal. Balli the king doesn’t have an heir yet, and is constantly suspicious of Alvtir. Yngvild his queen has a far from easy life. 

Freydis, the third female character we follow, is also a princess but completely different from Alvtir. She’s the king’s daughter and doesn’t count as an heir. Her best hope is to be wed to someone rich in a marriage of allegiance. But there’s no guarantee it’ll happen, because she’d need a dowry, and the winters are getting longer and colder. Some Norse kingdoms are going over to the new Christian religion, and Balli’s intransigence in favour of the old gods means Freydis has fewer prospective bridegrooms. 

There are a lot of characters, and I have to advise the reader not to get too attached to anyone because this is a bloodthirsty, vengeful time in history. Broskrap, a Norse farmer, and Snorri Broskrapsson are presented as direct antagonists, but survival is hard for Yafeu even when nobody is looking to knife her in case she’s a dark elf. They haven’t seen many like her up here. A more sympathetic warrior is Ingmar, who, with Freydis, teaches Yafeu a lot about their customs and skills.   

We know that the Norse traveled extensively and took captives from everywhere. Given the trade routes of the day, it’s entirely possible that a woman from Africa could end up in Norway. While BLACK SHIELD MAIDEN is fiction, authors Willow Smith and Jess Hendel have presented careful background detail to bring their subjects to life. I was entirely convinced and would be keen to read more of Yafeu’s extraordinary and turbulent travels.

Learn more about Black Shield Maiden

SUMMARY

From Willow Smith and Jess Hendel comes a powerful and groundbreaking historical saga about an African warrior in the world of the Vikings.

Lore, legend, and history tell us of the Vikings: warrior kings on epic journeys of conquest and plunder. But the stories we know are not the only stories to tell. There is another story, one that has been lost to the mists of time: the saga of the dark queen.

This saga begins with Yafeu, a defiant yet fiercely compassionate young warrior who is stolen from her home in the flourishing Ghānaian empire and taken to a distant kingdom in the North. There she is thrust into a strange, cold world of savage shield maidens, tyrannical rulers, and mysterious gods.

And there she also finds something unexpected: a kindred spirit. She comes to serve Freydis, a shy princess who couldn’t be more different from the confident and self-possessed Yafeu.

But they both want the same thing: to forge their own fate. Yafeu inspires Freydis to dream of a future greater than the one that the king and queen have forced upon her. And with the princess at her side, Yafeu learns to navigate this new world and grows increasingly determined to become one of the legendary shield maidens—to fight not only for her freedom but for the freedom of others.

Yafeu may have lost her home, but she still knows who she is, and she’s not afraid to be the flame that burns a city to the ground so a new world can rise from the ashes. She will alter the course of history—and become the revolutionary heroine of her own myth.


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