“She was a Berserker, cursed to fly into action whenever anyone she loved was in danger. A killer who would be compelled to murder elegantly, viciously, and without remorse.”
Berserker is the story of a family blessed with the Nytte. Or cursed with it. It depends on who you ask.
The story is told through the alternating narration of Hanne, Owen and Rolf. Hanne is the oldest daughter in her family. Her older brother Stieg, and her younger brother Knut all have a variation of the Nytte. The youngest, Sissel, shows no sign of the Nytte. Owen is a cowboy in America trying to find his way in the wild frontier; with plenty of his own demons to fight along the way.
After an incident forces the siblings to pack up and flee their home in Norway. They head to America, where they have family living in Montana. They hope to be able to find someone with the Berserker gift to help Hanne keep her gift under control.
“Embrace the Nytte,” Aud said, as Hanne scrambled backward in the pine needles and dried leaves. “Open your heart to it, or it will be the ruin of you. And your siblings, too.”
Rolf is an interesting character, and I won’t say much about him though to avoid spoilers. His is mission finding the Nytte in children and ensuring that the gifts do not die out. The role he plays with Hanne and her siblings brings a richer understanding of the legend of the Nytte, and it keeps some of the mythical elements entwined in the plot.
“Rolf kept his eyes trained on the faces of the crowd. Despite the hectic and daunting landscape that presented itself, what Rolf saw again and again, on all manner of faces, was hope.”
Once the family gets to America, they manage to make it through immigration and onto the train that will take them to Wolf Creek where their uncle lives. But they have been pursued from Norway and fleeing the men who chase them causes their path to collide with Owen’s. Literally. Owen agrees to take them the rest of the way.
“It was a strange spell that had been cast. Disaster had been so narrowly averted, and by such sudden heroics. No one could think of quite what to do next.”
The relationships between the siblings was written well. Sissel goes from being a bratty younger sister, jealous of her older siblings, to quite loving and doting when necessary. There were a few times when her tantrums felt a little shallow, but overall, it felt natural. Tantrums and jealousy aside, it was nice to read how they all worked together as a team and really only wanted the best for each other.
Owen and Daisy, his dog, were great characters. It is through them that we get a real sense of the frontier, and how hard life could be back then. In his agreeing to be their guide, we also get to read details about what travel was like then too. He is teaching them at the same time he is teaching us. I thought that was really well done.
“Perhaps even the most friendly town might seem hostile when you were on the lookout for it.”
This book is a mix of western folklore and mythology. The blend was unique and refreshing to read. It was a very fast read, at only 288 pages, and they all flew by. Laybourne does a really good job mixing enough information to really submerse us deep into both the reality of the frontier with the legend of ancient mythology, all while driving the plot forward.
What I rally liked was how each of the characters all struggled with acceptance in some way. Owen, to accept that he was good enough, even if his family thought he wasn’t. Hanne’s struggle for acceptance is a little more complicated. Her impulse to kill when her loved ones are in danger must be controlled, so she isn’t necessarily looking to ‘accept’ that aspect of herself. Sissel and Rolf both struggle with acceptance as well, though I don’t want to give anything away. And acceptance means different things for each of the characters, some leading to tragedy and others to triumph. I really enjoyed the complexity of each of these characters and how their journeys were both internal and external.
“Feelings didn’t seem to care if they made sense.”
We read books to get lost in a story, but the best stories teach us something as well. Legends and folklore often had morals to them. Endings to help us see a bigger truth either about ourselves or the world at large. So, it felt right that a book based on legend and folklore would have a moral wrapped up in it as well.
Overall, this was a fun read with a good story. It did feel a touch on the younger side of YA to me, so some of the conversations and plot pacing felt a little simplistic to me. But, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.
Thank you NetGalley and MacMillan for approving my request to read and review this book!