Magazine Feature

Published on 10 February 2024 at 19:06

Yay! The article I was invited to write for readers' Magnet magazine went live! Below is a copy of the article.

 

"The Sword tells the raw story of Oddný Einarsdóttir, a fifteen-year-old Norwegian girl kidnapped at sea and forced to be the bedslave of her brutal pirate captor, Örlygr Thrasason.

Far from melodramatic, such a setting would have been all too common during the turbulent Viking Age. Only in this case, we get a window into the on-the-ground reality of a fictitious captive woman.

We despair with Oddný as she loses her childhood and virginity to Örlygr and his gang of vikings and endures their humiliating abuse. Toiling on one of Örlygr’s remote farmsteads, Skóg, her life shrinks to a constant anticipation of her next beating. It’s a game of vulnerability and survival.

Lonely and miserable, Oddný falls for Kjartan, a young Irish thrall close to her age, letting him persuade her into a rocky affair.

But the wounds from Örlygr’s emotional beatings are still too raw and embittering for her to comprehend Kjartan’s love for her. Their volatile encounter ends abruptly with Kjartan’s violent death, as he sacrifices himself to Örlygr’s rage to protect his beloved Oddný. Oddný’s horror and revulsion towards her cutthroat master darken with her boiling hate. But her worst nightmare has already come true: she is pregnant with his child.

Then suddenly, a chance at freedom arrives with a strange young merchant, Vermundr. His family has fallen victim to Örlygr’s son Ingjaldr, then visiting his father at Skóg. Vengeance is long overdue. By dint of fate, Oddný makes a perfect ally as Vermundr plans his attack. She vows to help him on condition he free her. But, reluctant to leave her shiftless, Vermundr counters with his own condition: that she become his wife. Oddný accepts and the ambush is staged.

But Oddný is not about to give Vermundr the satisfaction of slaying her master. Right before Vermundr storms Skóg, she turns on a sleeping Örlygr with his own knife. Now she thinks it’s all over. She has her freedom, and so long as she keeps Vermundr satisfied, she’ll have peace. But isn’t prepared for the emotional fallout from her years of abuse.

Nor is she ready to face the stark life sentence to mothering Örlygr’s bastard child. There is no easy way out of pregnancy, just as there is no escaping the brutal past or the obligations of marriage. Oddný must find some way to cope with the rash decisions she has made and somehow build a life out of the rubble left her.

 

While writing The Sword, I never went graphic but I didn’t mince the details either.

I believe that the power of suggestion is key to firing the imagination and empathy of readers. I also didn’t promote the moving maternal narrative we usually hear, where the mother somehow overcomes her trauma and cherishes her abuser’s baby no matter what. Oddný is barely eighteen at the time, and in her mind the child and its father are one.

I’ve received backlash for depicting Oddný’s initial hatred of her baby and desire to miscarry, but I honestly wanted to make people uncomfortable. I wanted to show the mental agony of the situation and also Oddný’s personal growth as her view of the child changes.

 

My chief inspiration for The Sword was the story of Melkorka in the Laxdæla saga— a young Irish princess sold into slavery, who winds up on an estate in Iceland as her master’s bedslave.

Since the day I read that story, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind— wondering who she was before, and what horrific circumstances she must have endured, as her captivity traumatized her into selective muteness. I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the broken spirits out there today experiencing the same anguish.

Writing being the best way for me to work out anything troubling, I grabbed my pen and drew up a character in Melkorka’s honor. Not that Oddný is a reconstruction of how I see Melkorka, but she definitely is her ambassador so to speak.

 

Another key inspiration was the lack of female narratives out there.

I’m extremely passionate about early Norse civilization, but I am fascinated by the “little people” of the era, not the kings and conquerors. And I have seen precious little about the lives of women during that period. Books and movies set back then always promote the same image of “Vikings”, always stories about men feuding or avenging or doing battle.

But not everybody’s life was that epic, and certainly no woman’s. What was her daily grind like? The challenges she faced— her relationships, hopes and fears? I wanted to explore the reality of this harsh yet beautiful era through her eyes. So The Sword is really a tribute to the women of 10th century Norway.

I imagine The Sword will appeal most to adults who enjoy Old Icelandic sagas, Norse history, and definitely the works of Sigrid Undset, my writing role model.

Though I consistently get five stars for The Sword, it has been quite slow to sell, unfortunately. I expect it’s because of its extremely niche topic. But with the arrival of its sequel, The Vow, I hope to see more people pick up Oddný’s story and to hear how it touched their lives. I’m certainly excited to be able to share it through the Authors’ Lounge.

Writing is something I do as a cathartic hobby. I’m a thinker and an observer, always pondering the obscure, overlooked or marginalized. Creativity is my lifeline. I think the greatest curse in this world is the inability to express yourself.

 

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