Monday, February 10, 2020

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald
Synopsis (via Goodreads): A heart-swelling debut for fans of The Silver Linings Playbook and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Sometimes life isn’t as simple as heroes and villains.

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”
2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.
When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all...

We are all legends of our own making.


I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

I enjoyed When We Were Vikings and the message the author was trying to convey, but I don't think it was a good fit for me personally. I tend to avoid books about abuse or rape, because they're ugly truths about the world we live in. When I read, I want it to be fantastical or romantic -- something lighthearted and fun. I want to watch people fall in love, fight bad guys, or learn something new about themselves. I appreciate that there are books like this out in the world, and sometimes they're what I pick up to read (I believe we should read books that make us uncomfortable every once in awhile), but they're not my first choice. I know there are dark corners in most people's lives, but when it's in your face as you're reading, it's really depressing. It makes you focus on the fact that this happens, and it happens a lot. It's hard for me to pull myself out of that headspace, so I try to avoid going there at all. 

Zelda is a Viking in her own right, and I really loved her as a main character. Her brother, Gert, doesn't always make the best decisions, but he has Zelda's best interests at heart. He's there for her, present in her life when he doesn't have to be, and he provides for her knowing that she would struggle to do it on her own. We soon learn that Zelda is actually more than capable of taking care of herself, but she does struggle with some of the nuances of the world. 

I disliked that there was no resolution with a certain someone, because I felt like there should have been some severe consequences for their actions. It's left unresolved, which annoys me, but I can see why the author chose to leave that thread loose. It was realistic and lent the story more authenticity. I still wish someone had kicked their ass and made them regret every choice they'd ever made. 

Annie/AK47 was one of my favorite people. She loves Zelda and cared about Gert, but she also knows when to leave an unhealthy relationship. She takes care of herself, and loves from a distance when a person isn't good for her. I thought her sister-like behavior with Zelda was bittersweet, since they loved each other, but both wished for something that would likely never happen. In some ways, AK47 was a better influence than Gert, and understood that Zelda was an adult and should be treated like one despite the opinions of others. 

When We Were Vikings will repeatedly break your heart, and make you wish for impossible things. Zelda gets caught up in something she doesn't fully understand, and it has dire consequences for herself and the people she loves the most. Her quest to find herself, her passion for Vikings, and her desire to protect those closest to her -- they are just a few of the things that make Zelda a character worth rooting for. (★★★⋆☆)


  1. I’ve see quite mixed reviews about this, thanks for sharing your thoughts

    1. The story and the writing were good, it simply wasn't what I was expecting! I thought the book was going to be about Zelda going on a Viking adventure, which she did, just not in the way I thought she would. It was a lot darker -- more slimy -- than I was anticipating. She struggled with past abuse without really knowing how to give it a name, and then what she deals with throughout the book... it was both encouraging and terrible.

  2. I must admit the title got me curious - I thought this was a fantasy book the first time I saw it around LOL.

    My stance about "problem books" is the same as yours...sometimes I think I'm a bad person for choosing (in my case) "people [who] fight bad guys, or learn something new about themselves" (of course I expunged the "fall in love" part haha. But as long as it isn't the thing the book revolves on, I can take a small dose of romance). It sounds this book has a lot going on for it though, so I hope it finds its audience!

    1. Nope! It's not fantasy. :) The main character just really likes Vikings and tries to live her life like one (within reason). I feel bad sometimes too... like I should want to read those books, but that's rarely true for me. I believe this book will be widely accepted by others, it just wasn't a Lindsi Book.

  3. It sounds like you had some ups and downs with this book but that a lot of the things you didn't like were personal preference? I understand though -- while I like books like this because they open my eyes and are tricky reads, I do understand that they aren't for everyone. Especially not the people who read for escape!

    Olivia-S @ Olivia's Catastrophe

    1. Definitely personal preference! It wasn't what I was expecting, and that's on me. I should have been more thorough when I researched if this book would be a good fit for me. I am someone that reads for pleasure and escape -- something fantastical or out-of-this-world -- and the books that hit too close to home, or make me feel like I'm experiencing something traumatic with someone... those are hard for me.

  4. I can understand why this one wasn't great for you, I don't like to read really emotional books unless I'm in the right mood for them.

    1. Yes! I have to be in the mood for books like this, or it really messes with my headspace. Stories like this one linger, and I know it impacts me mentally.

  5. This one caught my attention when it releases last month and, despite the mixed reviews, it sounds like one I’d enjoy. (Well, enjoy might not be the right word, but you know what I mean.) So much of what you mention in your review are things that I like in contemporary fiction - the realism, the messiness. The one thing that does surprise me is that this is YA? Or at least people have shelved it as YA on Goodreads. But Zelda is 21 and her brother is older. Interesting.

    1. If you like books that discuss the grittier aspects of the world, then yes. I think this book would be a good fit for you. Like I was telling Mary, I have to be in the right mood for books like this, because they really mess with my head. I get so emotionally invested in books and their characters, so it's hard when they're going through something scary or traumatic.

      This book was most definitely NOT YA. I have no idea why people are shelving it as young adult, since all of the characters are at least 21. They're adults. They do adult things.


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