About the Book:
Title: Shield Maiden
Author: Sharon Emmerichs
Page Length: 416
Publication Date: Oct. 3, 2023
Synopsis: Both epic and intimate, Shield Maiden is the brilliantly imagined retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of a fierce young woman reclaiming her power.
All her life, Fryda has longed to be a shield maiden, an honor reserved for Geatland’s mightiest warriors. When a childhood accident leaves her tragically injured and unfit for the battlefield, her dreams are dashed—or so she thinks. But a strange, unfathomable power is awakening within her, a power that will soon be put to the test.
For when foreign lords and chieftains descend upon Fryda’s home to celebrate her uncle King Beowulf’s fifty-year reign, she realizes not all their guests come with good intentions. Treachery is afoot, and Fryda must gather her courage to fight for her people…as a queen should—as a shield maiden would—and as only Fryda can.
But as Fryda’s power grows stronger, something ancient hears its call. For buried deep in her gilded lair, a dragon awakens…and Fryda must prove herself once and for all.
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Shield Maiden is a unique reimagining of Beowulf’s last battle with the dragon but told from his niece’s point of view. I buddy read this with Leah from Leah’s Books, and we had some amazing conversations comparing this story to our recollections of the original and discussing the plot, characters, themes, romances, and so much more.
I love YA fantasy novels with fierce female protagonists, and I was gripped by Fryda’s story right from the start. A young woman who wants to be a shield maiden, Fryda’s dream is shattered when an accident causes permanent damage to her hand, leaving her unable to perform the duties of a warrior. It was interesting to see how Fryda navigated through life in a world where people with disabilities are often considered burdens or shameful. And though Fryda feels the sting of rejection, judgment, and scorn, she perseveres. Her bravery, loyalty, compassion, and strength make her a great leader, much like her beloved uncle.
Going into this read, I fully expected Beowulf to be presented in a negative light, but I was so wrong. Still a larger-than-life hero, Beowulf is humanized in his interactions with family and friends, most especially in his relationship with Fryda. He’s a beloved uncle, and he treats Fryda better than any other family she has. I like that Beowulf is not villainized and is instead presented in a positive, honorable light.
Hild is another character that I adored. Her jokes are hilarious (because penis jokes are funny in any time period), and her friendship with Fryda is lovely. I also love that Hild, Fryda, and Theow, along with several other secondary characters, form this strong unit that supports and protects each other (as much as they can, considering the circumstances). Oh my word, Bryce! He’s another amazing character whose story is super compelling. An air of mystery surrounds him, and his story is a bit heartbreaking, but his love for Fryda and Theow is unwavering and beautiful.
Of course, I have to talk about another favorite part of the story – the romance! It’s a sweet, forbidden love story that I adored. Fryda and Theow grew up together, and they care deeply for each other. Their relationship is a bright spot in the story. All of these characters are so devoted to each other and Fryda, and that loyalty becomes really important as the story progresses. These relationships also juxtapose the toxic relationship she has with her father and the unhealthy bordering on creepy relationship she has with her brother Wiglaf.
There are so many things I liked about this book – the action-packed plot with brewing dissension, traitors and murderers in their midst, natural disasters, and a dragon bent on destruction, the layered and detailed world-building, the dynamic characters and relationships, the immersive and captivating storytelling, the bits of humor, the love stories, the sections told from the dragon’s point of view (so cool!) – I enjoyed it all!
Special thanks to Redhook and Orbit for providing me with a copy of the book. All thoughts are my own.
“Theow closed his eyes and touched his forehead to hers, and they stood like that for one perfect moment. As he ran his fingers through her hair, something in his chest unclenched and he realized she had handed him the answer to the only question that had ever mattered to him.”
“She was transforming from his only solace to his greatest threat.”
“Beowulf didn’t respond as he fell into step beside the boy. Of course he didn’t live up to the stories. That was the whole point of stories. They took the mundane and ordinary and transformed them into legend.”
- forbidden romance
- friends to lovers