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Book: “The First Girl Child” by Amy Harmon
Publishing Info: 47North, August 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: Bayr of Saylok, bastard son of a powerful and jealous chieftain, is haunted by the curse once leveled by his dying mother. Bartered, abandoned, and rarely loved, she plagued the land with her words: From this day forward, there will be no daughters in Saylok.
Raised among the Keepers at Temple Hill, Bayr is gifted with inhuman strength. But he’s also blessed with an all-too-human heart that beats with one purpose: to protect Alba, the first girl child born in nearly two decades and the salvation for a country at risk.
Now the fate of Saylok lies with Alba and Bayr, whose bond grows deeper with every whisper of coming chaos. Charged with battling the enemies of their people, both within and without, Bayr is fueled further by the love of a girl who has defied the scourge of Saylok.
What Bayr and Alba don’t know is that they each threaten the king, a greedy man who built his throne on lies, murder, and betrayal. There is only one way to defend their land from the corruption that has overtaken it. By breaking the curse, they could defeat the king…but they could also destroy themselves.
Review: February was a fantastic reading month for me. Just hit after hit, loving them all! I think there was only one or two where I was maybe middling on, but the rest were all 4-5 stars from me! This is especially impressive since many of these reads were from authors who were new to me and were books that I had only heard about briefly here and there. That includes this one, a book that I haphazardly added to my TBR list after spotting it on a few fantasy booklists. But, yet again, we have another great one!
“The world is not kind to women.” So says many of the women living their lives out in Saylok, a land of powerful warriors and mysterious druids. So, too, said Bayr’s mother when, after birthing Bayr, nearly alone and friendless, she curses the land to produce no more girl children. Thus the world Bayr grows up in is one of growing desperation as no girls are born year after year and a cruel king leads the land into an uncertain future. That is, until the birth of Alba. Bayr and Alba form an early connection as children, but the hope that came with her birth quickly fades as the years continue without any other girls. As they come to age, powerful forces, both magical and political, become to come to a head and only Bary and Alba can see a future for their land.
Just like “A River Enchanted,” I think this book description is a bit misleading. Yes, Bayr and Alba’s story is central to the book, but they are only two of the main characters. And honestly, they might be the lesser two. We first meet Dagmar, a druid and the brother of Bayr’s mother. It is he who witnesses the curse in the making and takes Bayr under his wing to watch him grow. We also meet Ghost, a woman who has been forcibly taken to this land as Saylok’s men become desperate for the wives who can no longer be found among their own people. Different for both her strange washed-out coloring as well as her foreign upbringing, Ghost makes her way in the shadows of existence before also meeting up with Dagmar.
It is through these two’s tale that we really dive into some of the important themes of the book such as parenthood, devotion, and faith. Both are tested in all of these things throughout the book and handle the various challenges thrown at them in unique ways. Their stories are full of tragedy, but highlight the power of the individual when they put others before themselves and remain steadfast to what they know to be true.
This is definitely a slower book. The story takes place over twenty years or so. As such, you can see why Dagmar and Ghost’s stories are so prevalent. Bayr and Alba are growing up through much of it. But I will give credit to the author for this: I rarely enjoy stories that heavily feature children, and Bayr and Alba are both that through much of the book (Alba’s even a baby during a decent chunk of it), and yet I thoroughly enjoyed the slow exploration of their lives and how they are each shaped by each other and the events going on around them. All of these smaller moments are important as the book builds up to the larger decisions they each must make later in the book.
Again, given this format of the book, the romance of the story was greatly reduced from what I expected going in. That said, while the book wasn’t what I thought it was when I began it, it turned out to probably be a better read because of this change. Instead, the book has a much grander focus, not only on the themes I mentioned earlier, but also on women and feminism. In many ways, this is a fairly traditional fantasy world. Men hold all the power: on the battlefield, on the throne, and in the halls of magic. Fantasy readers will all immediately be familiar with this setting. But the author doesn’t simply go and flip the table on this. Instead, she takes a much more subtle and nuanced route in pointing out the limitations and dangers of women’s lives. She also explores the unique strengths and power that each woman holds as well. By the end, some of these power dynamics have indeed changed, but they did so in a manner that was both believable and satisfyingly
Rating 9: Perfectly executed tragedy reveals the true beauty of the power of love of all kinds.