Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Sakuma has served as a Valkyrie for centuries, smoothly escorting thousands of souls to the grand halls of Valhalla. While the world tears itself apart during WWII, he is summoned to retrieve the soul of a fallen Japanese soldier, Ishii Hiroshi. To Sakuma’s surprise, Ishii refuses his invitation to eternity.
The two meet again and again as the war repeatedly sends Ishii to death’s door, and what should have been a fleeting encounter becomes something much greater for the both of them.
Sakuma is determined to give Ishii the reward he so deserves, but Ishii’s stubbornness may condemn him to an eternity outside Valhalla.
I was lured in by this synopsis, a Valkyrie sent to summon a soul of a soldier who refuses to die, believing his duty is not yet over. And the emotional part of this story absolutely won me over. The bond that grew between Sakuma and Ishii was powerful, based on a shared beliefs, and background even though they were centuries apart. I found their relationship deeply moving and at the end, it had me in tears.
What kept this story from 5 stars was missed opportunity because, honestly it came close. Ashton chose to have two Japaneses warriors as their main characters, both of which were shining examples of bushido, also known as “the way of the warrior”, a code of conduct for the samurai, which Sakuma was prior to his death. In some ways, it is a way of life that both men exemplify to the core.
So why on earth do you mash that up confusedly with Norse mythology? Surely with all the richness of Shinto major and minor kami, plus some from Buddhism or Taoism, why would you need to twist the maiden Valkyries of Odin into “integrated” new Valkyries of both sexes. The argument here is because Valhalla had so many new bodies and souls the maidens couldn’t handle them all. Seemed specious and I never bought it. So many holes in this one from people from different religions being sent to a place where the gods of one religion (not theirs) rule. That part, plus well Valhalla and the Norse religion with Japanese men who were deeply part of their country’s culture if not their emperor and the politics of whatever era they came from (July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945 the invasion of China by Japan for Ishii). It never felt like a good fit. More like that puzzle piece someone kept jamming in that section because they needed it to fit there, rather than because it actually did. No, for me, using Norse mythology in the place of Bushido and the Shinto religion was just a missed opportunity, especially with the well constructed Japanese main characters so essentially Samurai.
As it is, I still recommend Valhalla for the relationship between Sakuma and Ishii, two soldiers separated by duty and centuries and death. It’s amazingly touching, watching Ishii persevere over and over battle after battle is heartbreaking and the ending is incredibly moving. For this amazing romance alone I will be seeking out more stories by LA Ashton and recommending that you read Valhalla by L.A. Ashton.
Cover Art: Natasha Snow. I love this cover. Moody with the soldier outlined in the background and the light above which could either be a bomb blast or a Valkyrie. Perfect.
Kindle Edition, 68 pages
Published December 31st 2018 by NineStar Press