Valhalla, L A Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars
Publisher: NineStar Press
Genre: Genre Fiction
Tags: Mythology, War, Male Valkyrie
Length: 17,600 Words
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.
This is a twist on Norse mythology as Sakuma is a male Valkyrie. The world has grown and with it conflict, requiring more Valkyries than ever before. In this Valhalla there are actually two males, that we are aware of, but the story concentrates on Sakuma who returns to earth multiple times for one soldier, Ishii Hiroshi.
From the first time Sakuma attempts to take Ishii up to Valhalla, because he’s seriously injured in battle, Ishii refuses, preferring to stay and tough out his particular injury. Not something that’s ever happened to Sakuma before.
“You know when most men see something celestial they don’t hesitate to ride along.” He shifted weight onto one leg. “You could at least have the decency to act surprised.”
The soldier’s lip pinched in at the corner. “You could at least have the decency to realize death is a big deal for a human.”
Sakuma can’t understand why Ishii is so stubborn, why he’s allowing the war to take a toll on his physical and emotional being and spirit. Why the number of refusals mount up. If Ishii dies anywhere other than the battlefield Sakuma won’t be able to collect and transport him to Valhalla, something he feels befits both Ishii’s valour and strength of character. But Ishii has doubts, what started as defence of his country, his patriotism, fighting alongside fellow combatants, morphs into something else.
“I don’t deserve it,” Ishii told him for the second time. “I don’t deserve you, and I don’t deserve Valhalla.”
Sakuma believes in Ishii from their first meeting. As the war continues to be waged, and they meet over and over, Sakuma is convinced even more that Ishii deserves his place in Valhalla – Ishii, not so much. Hildr, Sakuma’s superior, is not terribly impressed that Sakuma spends a lot of time and effort trying to keep tabs on Ishii’s energy levels. For the reader, however, it’s very moving that Sakuma worries he could lose Ishii completely, to illness, to a final refusal.
Over the years that Sakuma visits Ishii, something more transpires between them, but this is not a romance, not in my eyes. It’s about respect and a bond – the Samurai Valkyrie and the human soldier – something that transcends a solely human understanding of feelings and connection.
In the End:
Valhalla is a moving tale. For a short story it manages to pack a fair punch as you wonder just what Ishii will decide, if he even gets the chance to decide. Having a support like Sakuma watching you prior and then waiting for you in the afterlife would also be pretty special. 4 Stars.
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