Genre(s): Fantasy Romance
Baldr the Beautiful is dead.
Desperate to get back to his privileged role as Óðinn’s favorite son, Baldr strikes a bargain with Hel, the terrifying half living and half skeletal queen of the realm of the dead. He offers her the only thing he’s got: knowledge from the living world. Hel gives him three days. If he can teach her something new, she will return him to the realms of the living.
But the icy Hel seems completely impervious to Baldr’s charms. What’s worse, she already knows everything. By the end of the third day, Baldr realizes he’s only got one chance left to impress her.
Returning to his former life looks like it’s going to depend on Baldr the Beautiful seducing the most formidable woman in the Nine Realms.
Lo and behold, Samantha MacLeod hits another one out of the park. Out of the realm, even.
If you don’t know anything about Norse myth, you’re still going to love this book. If you do know a thing or two about a thing or two, you’re going to LOVE this book. Death and Beauty is kind of like a re-telling, but it’s more like a behind the scenes, which is something I love about MacLeod’s storytelling. She has such a unique way of blending modern conflicts into ancient stories and bringing them to life for the modern reader. The myth of how Baldr died and all the malarky that went on afterward is a great story, but MacLeod transforms it into an epic tale. The amount of plot she manages to include and her concise but descriptive style of writing make this little novella feel like a full length novel. It’s not rushed, it’s just good.
The one thing MacLeod always nails (well, there’s more than one thing, but this thing in particular) is characterization. The characters fit well with the mythical narrative, but they’re also colourful and interesting in their own right. Hel especially was so cool to read about, and she made a great heroine. And Baldr… I’ve never particularly liked Baldr all that much in the myth (maybe because I’m team Loki?) but this was an exceptional rendering of him.
The writing was superb, as always. MacLeod has a unique way of balancing evocative descriptive details, sharp, witty dialogue, and staging so that you really feel like you’re there. The plot was surprisingly intricate for a novella, and always kept me entertained. And the sex? Ay carumba. It started at 100 and went up to 1000 real damn quick. You will need a glass of water afterward. And maybe one of of those water-spritzing fans during.
Get out there and read this book. It only takes like an hour or two, so literally what is your excuse?