Faces in the Fire

Written by Donnita L. Rogers
Review by Ann Chamberlin

A series, of which this is the first, based on the women of Beowulf written by a woman who taught the epic in high school for years and published by an imprint connected with the Arizona State University Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies? An attractive proposal to me.

I enjoy first-person historicals, and this is from the point of view of Freawaru, Hrothgar’s daughter. This volume begins with an idyllic childhood as the king’s daughter then follows through the attack then death of Grendel and to our heroine being sent as a “peaceweaver” bride to Hrothgar’s enemy, Ingeld. Plenty of research has been undertaken in the creation of this novel.

Unfortunately, with all this going for it, I found the book difficult to enjoy. Many of the skills of a historical novelist, more than just the research that goes into a dissertation, are lacking. The author never found a way around the given problem of a young woman by definition being excluded from the most exciting scenes, even from having a driving purpose. Freawaru gets told everything after the fact. The skill of setting scenes that draw us in with details and metaphor is also missing, as is the ability to create story arcs and tension. The threat of Grendel goes on and on for years and gets diffused by a thousand daily duldrums. Page 130 gives the starkest example. Two brief paragraphs in the center of the page set us up for a return of Grendel with the lengthening dark. (Finally!) And another year and a half pass in the very next paragraph. End of tension, end of caring.