(I received a free copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. However, at the time, it was an ARC, so some things may have changed.)
This is an extremely frustrating book to rate, because I cannot decide whether I actually liked it, or only liked parts of it, with the rest being OK, and nothing more. I’ve mulled over this for some time (since the previous evening, in fact, which is when I finished reading the book), and I haven’t come closer to a conclusion.
What I liked:
- The use of lesser known figures from Norse mythology (or, should I say, of figures that are less often mentioned and would deserve more spotlight). Everybody’s heard of Loki and Odin, and probably Baldr as well, but what about the others? This is both a strong and a weak point of this novel: if you know enough, it’s going to be alright, yet if you don’t, you’ll probably have to look up quite a few things (including places).
- The relationship: it was much closer to “two people falling in love” than to “two gay guys falling in love”. Sigmund displays both “male” and “female” traits—he comes across as “human” first and foremost. Lain isn’t even human to start with. And it doesn’t matter, and the fact that it doesn’t matter is what makes this great. I’m not a gender-driven person. I consider people as, well, “people”, not as “men” and “women”. Although the story comes close to brushing on sexuality issues at some point, with Sigmund’s father mentioning how he tried to react to his son “being gay”, it doesn’t go too far down this road. At the end of the journey, it’s about two individuals having feelings for each other, period. (The part about the reincarnated soul didn’t feel like it warped the character towards being female.)
- The Bleed concept. Not exactly original, but hey, I’m a sucker for plot devices that make the protagonist(s) fall into some nightmarish version of their world. Yes, I played Silent Hill. There’s a reason I like that type of horror-driven story.
What I disliked:
- The subverted tropes that weren’t so subverted in the end, such as the geeky characters. They felt like they were supposed to look like the stereotypical nerds, but wait, not exactly, because they meta it by cracking jokes at themselves, but by doing this they’re becoming the stereotype again, and… At some point, it was a bit too much. It may have worked for me if dealt with in a different way; unfortunately, it didn’t.
- The novel felt too long in parts, too meandering through useless happenings: gaming, the camping trip, etc. They made it read more like fanfiction, and I think they could’ve been shortened without their role in the story being lost along the way. Those parts were probably the reason why it took me so long to read Liesmith—normally, I should’ve been done in 3-4 days.
- Among such scenes were several of the romance ones. Granted, I find getting those right always tricky and difficult. Here, some were good, but others veered towards the mushy side, and contributed to that “fanfiction” aspect I mentioned above.
- Sometimes, the writing style was rather weird, with a connection made between two clauses using an italicised “([insert word])” device. However, sometimes it highlighted something that wasn’t so relevant, and it made me wonder what was the point.
- Sigmund’s friends. Their role didn’t seem so important, and made me wonder why they were here. Either they could’ve been downplayed, or should’ve been fleshed out some more. In my opinion, they kind of hung in between. (This is worth for many characters in general in this story. Sigmund was the only one that felt “real”.)
And after writing this review, I still can’t decide if I liked it, if I’d recommend it... Let’s say that on a scale from 1 to 10, I’d give it a wee 5, an “it’s OK” as far as opinion goes, and a “maybe” as to whether I’d recommend it or not.