Monday, February 02, 2015

The Hellish Halls of Hel and Freya's Choice

Antonia van Zandt has a new novel out based on old Norse legends and what a lovely, lovely cover: 

Bask in the beauty because what comes next might send shivers down your spine. I'm passing you over to Antonia:

I love the old Norse legends. In fact I’m a big fan of the mythical heritage of many cultures and it never ceases to amaze me how many races of people, thousands of miles apart, built up traditions which are remarkably similar. Even though their means of transportation - at the time these stories were first told - would not have lent itself to such far distant travel. Coincidence? Or something a little more mystical perhaps…
My novel – Freya’s Choice – features some characters from Norse mythology. Freya of course, and Odin – and one who may be less famous, but at least as colourful. Her name is Hel and she was a daughter of the most mischievous of all the gods – Loki. Her siblings were a wolf and a serpent. Not a great start to life.
She features in a number of ancient Icelandic sagas – most notably the Poetic Edda, The Prose Edda (both 13th century) and the much earlier (10th century) Egil’s Saga. So, who was she?

Hel was not someone you would take home to meet your great-aunt. She was of a most gloomy, downcast, even fierce, manner and her appearance was enough to frighten the strongest character. In fact Odin took one look at her and threw her out of Asgard (the realm of the gods). He put her in charge of the realm of the dead, which bears her name. To ‘go to Hel’ means - literally - to die. Hel was one of the nine worlds surrounding the great tree of Yggdrasil, which spanned the distance between the underworld and the heavens. Hel lay under one of its three great roots and its supreme eponymous ruler had charge of the dead the gods did not want. Those who died of sickness and old age found themselves there, and Hel was charged with providing them with food and lodging. Her realm was guarded by a great dog (similar to the Graeco-Roman Cerberus).
In her realm Hel had great mansions, extremely high walls and massive gates. She had a knife called ‘Famine’ and a dish called ‘Hunger’. The entrance to her realm was known as, ‘Stumbling Block’ and her bed was called ‘Sick-bed’ and its hangings - ‘Glimmering Misfortune’.

Her appearance could have sprung straight from a horror movie. Hel’s upper body was half black and half pink coloured, but from her hips downward, her skin was greenish-black and decayed like a corpse’s, so you would certainly know her when you saw her! She had two servants who moved with agonising slowness – a speed only matched by the slow delivery of Hel’s speech. But all of this is not really surprising for a giantess who was herself half alive and half dead.
For all her apparent slowness of wits, Hel could be canny when she had a mind to be. When the god, Baldr, died and passed into her domain, his brother, Hermod, came to plead for his return. He said all the nine worlds mourned his brothers passing. Hel thought about it and oh so slowly, spoke her mind. She would return Baldr – but only if every single person, animal and substance in all of the nine worlds cried at his passing.
Hermod returned to Asgard and relayed Hel’s words. Soon everything in all the worlds cried for Baldr – fire wept, iron sobbed, every living thing mourned. Except one. In a cave, sat a giantess calling herself Thökk, and she refused to cry. Instead she said,
“Let Hel hold to that she hath!”

And so she did. But all the gods and goddesses knew who Thökk really was - the evil and mischievous Loki in disguise. There to protect his daughter’s interests? Or just up to his usual mischief? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Hel has a role to play in my novel. But that’s another story…

Freya’s Choice is published by Amber Quill Press. 

Here’s the blurb:

Nothing much happens in Abbey St. Francis, but Freya’s about to change all that...
Eve Lawson is no stranger to heartbreak. Three years ago, the man of her dreams betrayed her and left her unwilling to trust anyone ever again. So when gorgeous hunky farmer, Mark Latimer, starts to take more than a casual interest in her, she is cautious and nervous of committing either her mind or her body to him. But the attraction is there, and it’s growing. All Eve needs is just a little more time.
Abbey St. Francis—a sleepy, pretty village where nothing much happens and traditional values are held true—has been Eve’s home all her life. No one suspects that the beautiful young woman who has just moved into West Lodge is anything other than a wealthy and generous benefactor. But Freya Nordstrom is not what she appears to be.
Then the mysterious stranger takes more than a passing interest in Mark, and Eve knows she has a battle on her hands. But never in her wildest dreams could Eve have imagined the nature of the forces stacked against her...

And here’s a short extract:

...A loud flapping startled me. I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. The most massive bird I had ever seen flew past me and hovered, silhouetted against the moon. Then it flew directly toward West Lodge. I glanced back down at the cats. Their ears twitched, but nothing more. I searched the sky for the giant bird again, but it had disappeared. Could I have imagined it? Surely not. I certainly wasn’t imagining those cats or the malevolence in their eyes.
My knees buckled from my unaccustomed crouching position, but I was scared to make any rapid movement, and Freya’s cats continued to stare at me. Their eyes narrowed, as if at any moment they would pounce and tear me to shreds. But their hackles didn’t rise, they didn’t arch their backs, spit or make any of the warning gestures cats employ to let you know they’re about to strike. They just sat there, like statues. Waiting.
My knees ached and I had no choice or I would simply keel over. Slowly, I rose to my feet, wobbling with the effort, while I kept my eyes on the animals.
Their gaze traveled upward with my movement. A chill wound itself around my spine, spiraling the length of it, and I shivered.
Then, as if receiving some signal I couldn’t hear, they blinked in unison and turned away. They slunk down my path before jumping over the wall and out of sight. I continued to watch and, in the light of the streetlamp at the bottom of Freya’s drive, saw them emerge and pad slowly up her long drive. They matched each other step for step, their tails held high.
Then I saw a tall figure striding down Freya’s drive toward me. He passed the cats, apparently without acknowledging their presence. Too dark and far away to make out his features, my heart still lurched.
Mark. I could see the familiar long hair fanning his shoulders, the white shirt and dark pants. Tears pricked my eyes. At that moment, I wished with all my heart I hadn’t seen him. It couldn’t be happening again. Surely he wouldn’t betray me as John had. After all he’d said to me. And I’d believed every word.
So Freya had been telling the truth. Somewhere along the line she’d made his acquaintance, and now I knew why he hadn’t answered his phone. He’d been with her.
I told myself to calm down. There could be a hundred innocent explanations for his visit. But unless I asked him, I wouldn’t know. I hurried down my path and opened the gate.
“Mark! Hi!” I hoped I sounded nonchalant, but a note of desperation had crept into my voice.
He reached the end of her drive and turned left. He was directly opposite me now, in shadows, on the other side of the lane. Any second and he would cross over.
He must have heard me, but not a flicker. He never broke his stride. Just carried on walking, farther down the lane, away from me, while I stood and watched him, my insides turning to mush in dismayed disbelief...
You can buy Freya’s Choice here:

Barnes and Noble

About Antonia:

Antonia van Zandt has been writing since someone stuck a pencil in her hand at the age of around five. Sick of finding their wallpaper covered in scribbles, her parents relented and bought her an exercise book. This was the beginning of a trend. At the age of nine she progressed to her first typewriter, and can now spend hours happily tapping away at her keyboard while all around her descends into chaos. She has recently made the transition from writing erotica to paranormal adventure, with some pretty heavyweight Norse gods thrown in for good measure. She adores cats, fine wine and dramatic scenery. Freya’s Choice is her first novel for Amber Quill.

You can connect with Antonia here:


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