I’ve only read two books by Amy Harmon: From Sand and Ash and now The First Girl Child. In From Sand and Ash, I learned what it meant to have a book “wreck” you. I had heard so many women at these book signings over the years say, “Oh that book? I died,” or “I had to take a break after reading (yada yada book).” At Book Bonanza 2018, I heard the phrase being “wrecked” by a book for the first time. I get it now. But ladies! Death, having a book hangover, and then being wrecked by a book? None of these descriptors sound like I-better-go-read-this-now! Maybe we need to come up with something else, something more positive. I realize these are just a play on words, but dang. Reminds me of a friend of mine who once told me, “Oh my God, I am dead. D.E.A.D. Dead. SO DEAD I had to come back to life to plan my own funeral because I am absolutely DEAD!” for a really good thing that happened. (If you’re reading this, you know who you are muahahaha!)
Anyway, after securing my man card and picking myself up off the floor after being wrecked by From Sand and Ash, my interest in Amy Harmon’s writing was piqued. When we were at Book Bonanza this year, I picked up her newest—The First Girl Child—mainly because I loved the cover, and when I asked her about the book she said, “Do you like mythology, mystic lands, and relationships?” I was more intrigued than anything. I mean, From Sand and Ash is all WWII historical fiction. But who can jump from that to “…mythology, mystic lands, and relationships”? Well, Amy Harmon can. That’s who.
I actually liked this book MORE than From Sand and Ash and I love WWII historical fiction! The First Girl Child is an EPIC story. I mean epic as in a huge cast of characters in a world that she created. There are so many interactions between characters that I can’t imagine what her writing plan was or what her beta readers and editors had to go through. It’s written in such a way that I never found myself asking, “Wait, who is that?” She had complete control over her storyline and who was involved at any given time.
An author is clearly taking a risk when writing a story that takes place in a fictional location. They must write enough to describe the scene, but not so much that the story gets lost. I absolutely love the way Amy did this. I feel like she spent just enough time describing locations for me to imagine them my own way, before moving the story forward. In my opinion, that is a truly impressive talent.
Normally, as the one who starts the review, I’d be sharing a short, spoiler-free summary of the book. Here’s my problem: I have no idea how to sum up a book with so many twists and turns! In fact, in the first draft of this review, I had to cut about 95% of what I wrote because I had given too much away. So I think the best way to summarize it is the way Amy did. The First Girl Child, at its core, is about relationships (familial, tribal, romantic, friendly, and antagonistic) wrapped in a mythological tale that takes place in a mystic land.
If you know anything about Norse mythology, this book will speak even more to you. If not, it’s okay—pop culture has recently made the names of some of the gods more well-known (e.g., Thor and Loki).
In the end, how good was this fictional epic for me? After reading it, I had to update my Top Eleven Reads on this blog. It truly was that good. And I have no problem setting the bar that high. It will be met.
Just FYI, I read the actual e-book, while Erica listened to the audiobook, so I’m interested in getting her perspective.
The audiobook was fantastic! I’m always leery of narrators I’ve never heard of, but Rob Shapiro did an awesome job. There was an earthiness to his voice that was so appropriate for these characters. His voice had layers, which was essential for this kind of multi-component and otherworldly era story. I found myself looking forward to hearing his voice (don’t be jealous, Matt!), looking forward to understanding the motivations of the characters, and looking forward to knowing what happens next. In other words, I wanted to drive IN TRAFFIC. Crazy, right? That’s the magic of Amy’s storytelling.
And what a story it was! I’m usually more into character-driven stories, but The First Girl Child was definitely plot-driven—in the best of ways. I know I’ve been talking about pacing lately, but the pacing for this book was so unique. It was steady for about 85% of the book and then—BAM—everything sped up and I was literally on the edge of my driver’s seat. I had no idea how Amy was going to conclude the story. It seemed like there was so much she needed to wrap up. I started thinking, will there be plot holes? Will we be left with the equivalent of wondering how Arya survived the stabbing from the waif? (How the hell did that happen in Game of Thrones?!) Alas, I never should’ve doubted Amy. By the end, she put a perfectly wrapped bow on the whole damn thing.
One more thing I find important to mention: despite the fact that this land and its people are foreign, the heart behind the characters is anything but. As Amy points out at the end of the book, two characters, Bayr and Dagmar, are based on her father. This personal touch makes the story that much more meaningful. Anytime an author adds something personal to their books, I swoon. And the care Amy takes with these characters and their own personal journeys is seemingly effortless and quintessentially beautiful. I’ve read a handful of books by Amy, including the one Matt mentioned, but this is by far my favorite.
Don’t worry, Erica, I am not offended by your infatuation with the voice of the narrator. Especially with the bass speakers in your car—I understand why you would like the vibration and “earthiness” of his voice… 😉
In the end, we clearly loved this book. While Amy hooked me with her original question about “…liking mythology, mystic lands, and relationships,” I’d like to end with my own question for Amy: When does the next sequel/prequel/same-universe book come out? You better be writing one! Hurry! Write it! Go! Now!
And you, reader, go buy this book! It’ll be one you’ll want to add to your Top Eleven (or Ten, if you’re predictable) list too.
To purchase a copy of or read the synopsis for Amy Harmon’s The First Girl Child, click here.