When Matt was just a kid, his father was killed in an accident and it broke his mother. Now, at 16, his mother has decided to send Matt to Denmark in a student exchange program where he’ll be staying with friends of hers, and friends of his father’s. He’ll get to see the city where his father grew up, talk to people who knew him, learn Danish, and hopefully have a grand adventure. The whole “see the world, learn about your heritage, and maybe learn about yourself” thing. It isn’t exactly what Matt wants, but it’ll please his mother, so he goes.
His host family, Lillian and Michael, are nice and accepting, and Matt likes them a lot. He isn’t really making friends at school. He never has, to be honest, more content to be with his mom, and he’s never felt like he fit in with other kids his own age. He’s not lonely. It’s more like he’s waiting.
A chance encounter with a protester on the street upends everything Matt ever thought he knew about … everything. It’s almost as if Matt has come home.
This story threw me for a bit of a loop. I was expecting more action, drama, and angst; I expected Norse mythology, epic battles, and secrets coming unraveled. What I got was a lovely, charming, and intriguing slice of life story about a young man discovering the truth about who he is. I read the whole book (nearly 300 pages) in one sitting, never feeling the lack of a big climactic battle because I was drawn in by the small, homey details of a large, extended family living together, enjoying each other, and slowly introducing Matt to his supernatural heritage.
The Vargr are a deeply loyal, deeply connected people who just happen to not be human. They’re also fathers and mothers, brothers and cousins. They go to school, work at a farm where the Vargr grow their own cattle and chickens. There are conversations about duty and family; what you owe, and what is owed to you. The support of the group, the loyalty you earn, and the loyalty you give are all explored in depth. There are a few fights as the children squabble for a pecking order, but it’s always done with an adult keeping an eye on them to make sure it never goes too far.
However, as much as I enjoyed this book, there are some small points that didn’t quite work for me. One, Matt is supposed to be from New York, but I didn’t believe it (and I say this knowing people are different and not everyone from New York, or anywhere in the United States acts the same). He didn’t feel like an American 16-year-old to me. Matt accepts everything fairly easily, managing to say the right things to prove himself as a worthy, show the wisdom and compassion necessary to be a Chosen One, and has zero flaws. Not every character has to have flaws, but Matt — everyone, really — was just so very nice, so very easy going, so very forgiving. While there is a first kiss and first crush for Matt, it’s made very clear that Matt likes his boyfriend, but doesn’t love him; he doesn’t feel as though this is his other half.
It’s a very slow, leisurely book, with foreshadowing and hints sprinkled in for future books in the series, and not much happens until the last quarter. Even then, there’s a lot of talking, a lot of searching for a moral high ground, a lot of making sure everyone is happy and happy with the new path. Again, this is an utterly charming slice of life story that happens to have paranormal beings in it rather than being a dramatic and explosive first book in a series. I very much enjoyed it and will be eagerly looking for the next book.