Did you ever think to yourself, wow, I love stories about Vikings. Or wow, I love stories about cowboys. I wish there were more stories about Vikings AND cowboys!!! No? Well, clearly you’re not as brilliant as Emmy Laybourne.
Side note: As I mentioned this I was googling for images of Cowboy Vikings and did you know there’s a Cowboy Ninja Viking comic book?!? Yeah, they went there.
Getting back to the point, I think Emmy’s prior books (Monument 14 and Sweet) do an excellent job of transforming something real into potentially terrifying fight-for-survival sort of scenarios. While Berserker is still about a family’s fight for survival, it takes place in a very different sort of world.
On the cowboy side we have Owen. He’s strong, hardworking and devoted to his family, which, in this case, is his dog Daisy. He had a somewhat tough childhood, at least from an emotional standpoint and continues to have some tough breaks that lead him to his run-in with the Hemstad family.
The Hemstad family (the Vikings) is cursed/gifted with Nyttes. These are special abilities that come at a price. Hanne, the oldest sister is a Berserker who goes into a rage whenever those she loves are threatened. Her older brother Stieg is a Stormrend with the power to control the winds at a harsh physical price. Youngrt brother Knut is an Oarbreaker with extreme strength and youngest sister Sissel does not (yet) have a Nytte.
The action really begins with the idea of Stieg traveling to America to become a teacher. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so let’s just say that after a series of unfortunate events, the siblings are forced to flee with Stieg to America. And so the journey begins.
Over the course of the book, Emmy paints beautiful landscapes and creates a complex and ultimately very real family dynamic. There’s a clear attraction between Owen and Hanne, but it’s never overpowered by the angst you so often see in YA and the barriers to the relationships – the misunderstandings and insecurities – ring true.
The internal conflict within the story is based on the characters’ struggles with their Nyttes. While the external conflict is provided by two Vikings pursuing the Hemstad’s with the intention of harnessing their “gifts.”
By the end of the book, I was very attached to the Hemstads (and of course Owen), I had been truly surprised by a few of the characters and I was left with a deep curiosity on what it might mean to “listen to the gods.” Read it and you’ll understand what I meant by the last bit. Berserker was something really different and very good and I’m really looking forward to Book 2.