Rating: 4.5 stars
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Eight months ago, Paul Ansell was in a tragic accident in Iceland that almost killed him and left his lover dead. Now he is mostly physically recovered, though mentally he is still not completely healed. Paul has no memory of his time living in Iceland, nor of his lover Sven. Now he is returning to Iceland to his job teaching at the university and studying the life of famous Viking beserker Egil Skallagrimsson.
Making the adjustment back to life in Iceland is not easy. Paul has no memory of any of the people he used to know, nor of any of things he experienced while there, which is very disconcerting. People seem torn between wanting to talk to him at length about his accident and his memory loss, or being so uncomfortable as to ignore him completely. But Paul is comforted by his coworker Mags who has taken care of Paul’s belongings while he was away recovering in England and is helping him readjust to life. He is less certain about summer student Alex who seems determined to befriend Paul, but something about Alex just makes Paul wary. The only person Paul feels fully comfortable with is riverboat driver Viggo Gudrunarson. Paul feels a connection to Viggo and learns that they knew each other in the past, but he doesn’t remember much more. All he knows is that Viggo is content to start fresh in their relationship and that is just what Paul needs, to move forward and not struggle so much with the past.
As Paul begins to settle back in to his life in Iceland, he begins to see more of Viggo, finding attraction and comfort in the gorgeous, modern day Viking. But Paul’s past still haunts him, and the more he sees of Iceland and talks to others, the more anxious and uncertain he feels about his past. Why does he feel no sense of loss over Sven? Why does it feel like home with Viggo, a man who was supposedly only a friend? Why does Alex seem so interested in Paul’s previous life? As memories begin to trickle back in, the more Paul begins to question what really happened the day of his accident, and whether it was really an accident after all.
Fall Hard combines fascinating lore of the Viking legends along with an inspiring, travelogue of Iceland, mixed in with a touch of a thriller. I really appreciated the originality of this story and the unique spin that Merrow creates. First off, I found the stories of the Viking settlers and the legends surrounding them to be just fascinating. Merrow has clearly done her research, as we learn details from Paul’s studies that just totally come to life. Paul is drawn to the story of Egil, a famous Viking beserker who was incredibly violent and bloodthirsty, but also known for his deep love and his moving poetry. The combination of the extreme darkness with this lighter side intrigues Paul and as a reader we really get to experience the legends, as well as Paul’s enthusiasm.
Merrow not only makes these legends come alive, but her beautiful portrayal of Iceland itself made me feel like I was seeing it firsthand. It is clear she has a love for the country and so wonderfully describes the waterfalls and lava beaches, the towns and cities. She captures those little quirks that makes a place unique. It feels like we are really there, not just reading about a place, but experiencing it. The story just has such a wonderful sense of place, and Merrow really immerses us in Iceland and its culture.
The story also has a nice twisty thriller side. It is not high intensity, but rather like a low thrum the runs like an undercurrent throughout the book. We follow Paul as he tries to navigate through his past and attempts to remember his life in Iceland and with Sven. We know something is off, but never quite can grab onto what it is. As the book continues, it is more and more clear that something bad happened, and learning exactly what, and who is safe to trust, unspools over the course of the story. Although I loved Viggo (and there is no way NOT to love Viggo), I sometimes had trouble feeling the connection between he and Paul because so much seemed uncertain about their past, about what really happened to Paul and Sven. I think that kept me from feeling fully emotional committed to these guys together until I knew how it all turned out. But as I said, Viggo is just perfect and sexy and this story packs a lot of heat.
So I really enjoyed this one and found it a really unique and interesting story. In a sea of clone contemporaries, Merrow gives us a story with an unusual plot set in a distinct location and filled with fascinating Viking lore. Although it is not a fast moving story, I found myself really captivated by this one and would definitely recommend it.
Cover review: Well, hello gorgeous! I mean, holy crap, is that beautiful or what? Totally captures Viggo, our handsome modern day Viking. Just gorgeous.