Dagmar of the Northlands by John C Adams

Thank you so much to author John C Adams for requesting my honest review in exchange for this ARC novel.

From Albedo One Magazine Contributing Editor and double Aeon Award Longlister John C Adams comes a delightful fantasy romance featuring brand new heroine Dagmar Strongarm of the Northlands in the thrilling sequel to Aspatria.

Dagmar of the Northlands is edited by professional editor E S Wynn-Rubsam and features a powerfully evocative cover from Fiona Jayde Media.

When her stepfather Konung Thorlak of the Northlands dies, the jarls rally round Dagmar’s half brother Njal and make him their new ruler. Dagmar is disturbed by their ability to do so, when Thorlak fell at Njal’s own hand.

The new konung orders a raid on Gortah van Murkar’s island territory of Orkna to deflect attention from criticism of his rise to power and his treatment of his sister Yeen. Dagmar puts her yearning for romance with close friend Frakkok Warmhearth to one side long enough to join the raiding party, but her sister Ragnhild’s pregnancy from their mysterious house guest Jon, rumoured to be the human form of the Northlands’ Sea God Grunn, is also weighing heavily on her mind. Dagmar’s thoughts often drift back to her homestead, Barnahus, the aptly named House of the Women.

It isn’t long before Njal is proving himself unfit to lead, and the Men of the North are running amok. Dagmar and her cousin Magnus Broadchest step up, leading the raid on the crofters of Orkna to plunder whatever pitiful treasure the islanders have hidden away. They also do their best to rally the Men of the North’s allies to attack the island’s capital, the towering stronghold of Castle Longhope, before Gortah can get wind of their arrival and send reinforcements to hold this distant outpost of his massive empire.

Dagmar longs to return home and begin a relationship with Frakkok and to ensure that Ragnhild comes safely through the birth of her son. First, she must stiffen the resolve of the Men of the North to fight as a disciplined band within the coalition of forces the Gods have amassed to assist the Northlanders in taking Castle Longhope. With Magnus injured in the earlier raid, and his wound festering, returning home to Barnahus seems further away than ever for Dagmar.

Meanwhile, in his opulent capital Zwaarstad, Gortah awaits the return of his wife Queen Dextra of Aspatria and her much younger other husband Lord Ludwig Berg. The king and queen have been apart for a year following the death of Dextra’s baby son, Crown Prince Aelred of Aspatria, but Gortah has formally demanded her attendance at his fiftieth birthday celebrations, amid continuing speculation in Murkar and Aspatria about the stability of the royal marriage.

Just as Gortah hopes to celebrate Dextra’s return in peace, the Eirans gather an immense warhost and ride for the border with South Eira, Gortah’s possession across the Silent Sea. The commander at Fort Belshan sends urgent word that reinforcements are needed, and Gortah’s youngest son Prince Eugene leads those forces into battle. However, Eugene’s thoughts are clouded on and off the battlefield by tempting visions of the King of Eira’s youngest daughter, Princess Emer o’Eira.

Is the delightful and playful spirit who visits Eugene in the night hours at Belshan a true likeness of Emer in beauty and good nature? Eugene becomes more determined than ever to meet the princess in person and find out. But Emer’s father Domhnall o’Eira is determined that any match with the Murkan prince will be with his eldest daughter, Briana, even if it means breaking her betrothal to childhood sweetheart Chieftain Jarlath o’Cruach.

The return of Benedict Dartelend gives Gortah the thrill of seeing his old lover again after thirty years, but it is tinged with sadness and regret that Benedict has come home to Murkar after decades of ill health to say goodbye. Gortah’s old adversary for Benedict’s affections Theydon Kleermaker travels to Zwaarstad with Benedict, but after so many years of estrangement and tension, Benedict’s passing brings them closer.

This was my first foray into the world of Aspatria. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but other than knowing more about Gortah, I’m not sure I needed to.

This was a very interesting book. I loved the interaction between all the characters and how every part was interconnected in some way.

The book is enriched with wonderful places and imagery. I loved diving into the land and following the characters in their adventures.

The details involved in this novel were amazing. I had no trouble imagining myself in this world next to Gortah, Eugene, Dagmar, and Dextra. Their struggles were very real and visceral.

My main critique would be that there were a lot of characters introduced in a small amount of time. This lead me to becoming confused in how they were all related and who was who. Perhaps this would have been easier for me to follow in a physical book rather than on my kindle.

Overall this was a lovely fantasy adventure romance novel. I enjoyed being able to take part in the journey.

From John C Adams’ Goodreads author page:

I’m a non-binary author and critic of fantasy and horror.

I review for Schlock! Webzine, the British Fantasy Society and Horror Tree, as well as placing reviews and articles across a wide range of blogs and magazines.

I have a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. I’ve been a Contributing Editor for Albedo One Magazine and the Aeon Award since 2016. Before that, I was a Submissions Reader with them.

My debut horror novel, ‘Souls for the Master’, is free on Smashwords retailers and 99p on Kindle. Likewise, my debut fantasy novel, ‘Aspatria’, is free on Smashwords retailers and 99p on Kindle. The sequel to ‘Aspatria’, ‘Dagmar of the Northlands’, is out now on Kindle and Smashwords retailers.

Although I write mostly long fiction, since 2015 I have had stories published in anthologies from Horrified Press, Lycan Valley Press, Fantasia Divinity and Jersey Pines Ink. My short stories have also been published in the Horror Zine, Sword & Sorcery, Sirens Call, Blood Moon Rising, Lovecraftiana and various other magazines.

Every emerging writer needs plenty of encouragement right at the start, and entering lots of competitions early on made a real difference to my confidence to press on with writing longer fiction and think about submitting short fiction to magazines and anthologies in due course. In 2012, I was longlisted for the International Aeon Award Short Fiction Contest for ‘The Visitors’ and again in 2013 for ‘We Can Finish Your Baby’s Brain For You’. My writing was also recognised by the Enrico Charles Literary Award (runner up in 2012) and by the University of Winchester Writers’ Conference in both 2012 and 2013, including a Commendation in the First Three Pages of a Novel category, and other nominations in poetry and short fiction.

I read PPE at Somerville College and I am a non-practising solicitor. We live in rural Northumberland, UK, and I combine my career as an author and critic with caring for my husband Brian, who has severe brain damage, and raising our family.