Epeolatry Book Review: The Again-Walkers by Deborah Sheldon
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Title: The Again-Walkers
Editor: Deborah Sheldon
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Genre: Historical Horror, Mythology
Release Date: 24th, June, 2022
Synopsis: The Again-Walkers was inspired by ninth century Danish mythology and superstition. The premise: To end a blood feud between two Viking families, Svana Norup is offered as a peace-pledge bride to blacksmith, Hallkell Jenson. Within weeks of moving to Hallkell’s village, however, Svana meets and falls for the shepherd, Agmundr Rask. If Svana and Agmundr want to make a life together, they must first get rid of Hallkell. But can the lovers risk murder when Hallkell might return from the dead to take revenge?
The novellette, The Again-Walkers, is a short, but colourful, dive into the world of 9th century Denmark with all its prejudices, blood-feuds and mythology. That premise alone encouraged me to pick up this little book – I am descended from Vikings after all! Plus, having read some of Sheldon’s excellent work before, including Pretty Little Stitches, Body Farm Z, and Contrition, I knew she could tell a story.
The Again-Walkers starts with the forced marriage of Svana to Halkell, the village blacksmith, as a consequence of her brother’s murder of Halkell’s father. Here, Sheldon weaves in the expectations of the wife, the woman’s place in society and the hierarchy of authority, brief touches but cleverly done. I found it telling that when she introduces the Earl as he speaks at the General Assembly, his wife is simply termed that – ‘Wife’.
Whilst Svana manages to remain somewhat independently-minded, her mother-in-law, Dagny, is representative of the woman knowing her place and as such, the two are often in conflict. Sisterly solidarity was not always evident in these harsh times, although the ‘Wife’ of the Earl expresses some compassion and appears to carry a little influence with her husband but behind the scenes. Yet Svana is not broken by the beatings or her work and takes on a dangerous flirtation with the shepherd, Agmundr, which develops into the affair driving the story.
As I read, the narrative felt very much like a book of two-halves, the first two chapters are romance and erotica, which then give way to two chapters of superstition and horror as the fear of the dead rising – the Again-Walkers – take hold. In a way it was as if the writer wasn’t quite sure whether this was to be an erotic horror or not, an indecision which I felt to be the only down point to this novelette. For me, the latter two chapters, with their darkness and fearful atmosphere, as well as the touching faith of those left behind that the Again-Walker will not harm the ones who loved them, were the most compelling.
The historical research that went into this short work is obvious, the descriptions of village life, the burial rites which included the items buried with the dead in their barrow, the clothes, all added to a richness of description which supports the ill-fated love affair perfectly.
Do the Again-Walkers rise? And if they do, is it for revenge or love? To discover that you will have to read for yourself!
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Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.