Heathen is a Viking/Norse mythology crossover graphic novel about a lesbian warrior who is out to rescue a Valkyrie who has a problem with the God-king Odin after he punished her for defying his law. Sounds quite impressive, right? Sounds a bit different and quite inviting, right? Well…it wasn’t awful but it seriously lacked any ‘oomph’ or staying power.
I have to admit, I wasn’t too invested in this story or the characters by the end of the volume. I think the key reason behind this was that the story didn’t grip me, and that wasn’t necessarily because of individual elements of the story itself – it’s just because it feels like I’ve experienced this story as a whole before. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about the ostracized lesbian warrior, who is quite unique, I’m talking about the ‘mortal warrior sets out on a quest to rescue a deity-like being to take down another deity-like being’ story arc. I’ve read it before in mythology, I’ve read it before in fiction and I’ve seen it before in film and TV.
Now, if you can’t get enough of either Viking stories, Norse mythology stories or LGBT stories, then Heathen absolutely is for you. I just like to see a little more of a ‘twist in the tale’ with all of these types of stories. That’s why, for me, I just didn’t find the story gripping.
Also, Heathen seems as though it has been written nearly exclusively for the LGBT and feminist audiences, which is completely fine (if not potentially a little alienating to the rest of its possible audience) but I felt that the LGBT theme was a bit forced at times – and I say that as part of the LGBT community (I’m part of the ‘B’). In fact, the only relationship that I felt was both genuine (in the ‘not forced’ way – I’m not saying that the lesbian characters weren’t actually lesbians) and that I felt any emotion for was the heterosexual one between Brynhild and Sigurd.
Whilst we’re talking about Brynhild – I don’t feel sorry for her at all and I think this is another problem I had with connecting with this story – I just don’t sympathise with one of the main characters.
Here’s some context – Odin created the immortal Valkyries to escort the souls of fallen soldiers to Valhalla and whilst they do have power over death itself, the final decision of who lives and who dies lies with Odin. Brynhild, the leader of the Valkyries, directly disobeys Odin by striking a king dead instead of allowing him to live, so Odin banishes her from the Land of the Gods and exiles her.
And we’re supposed to feel bad for her? Erm…no. In fact when I read this bit in the story I actually said to myself “Well, tough shit bitch. He literally created you and you directly disobeyed him by killing a king on your own whim – what did you think was going to happen? If you do wrong, you get punished. You brought this on yourself and only have yourself to blame.” Now, maybe it will be revealed that Brynhild disobeyed Odin for a genuinely noble and righteous cause in a future volume, but it’s not even hinted at in this volume, so I’m sticking by my guns.
There are secondary characters in this volume that may or may not appear in future volumes, and whilst some of them are grounded in reality (as much as a character can be in this world) and are developed enough as stand-alone or recurring characters, others are not. None stand out as much as the wolf brothers. These wolves are in the ‘real world’ and interact with other grounded characters and have been around for the end of the world several times, so many times that they actually take it in turns to eat the sun and the moon….erm, what? Again, this might be explained more in future volumes, but this just felt a little shoe-horned in and was just frustrating.
A lot of the dialogue across all of the characters seemed stilted and forced and it stopped me connecting with them. However all of the characters were all unique and different from each other – even within the species – the Valkyries showed some differences between them, the wolf brothers have different personalities and the townspeople have differing opinions and actions to other mortals.
Another thing that Heathen did well was its expert use of colour. The entire graphic novel uses an extremely limited colour pallet and it really works in its favour. The artwork itself was pretty hit or miss for me. Some pages were stunningly beautiful, others looked like first draft or unfinished sketches and others just made me laugh out loud. Despite this, the colour use is still very impactful.
All in all, Heathen is a light and soft exploration of ancient mythology – it’s nowhere near as dark as you might expect from a Viking/Norse story and it downright cheesy at times, but it’s quite enjoyable if this genre is your thing.
I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time with Heathen and if I come across the chance to read volume 2 (or if I see it in the library) I’ll probably pick it up to see how the story progresses and if any of my more WTF questions are answered. But if I never find volume 2 then I won’t be losing sleep over it.
Heathen is a middle-of-the-road graphic novel and story for most and a gem-find for those who love Viking/Norse and LGBT stories.
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was given a digital copy of the ARC in return for an honest review. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.