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Saga by Nikki McWatters

Title: Saga

A Viking ship sailing in a stormy sea. Saga by Nikki McWatters

Author: Nikki McWatters

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: UQP

Published: 5th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 376

Price: $19.95

Synopsis: In the last years of the Viking Era, priestess Astrid takes on the task of recording the True Things. A skáldmær learning to write royal sagas and a member of one of the last remaining temples to the Goddess Nerthus, Astrid knows she must protect her secrets from the bishops of the Roman Church and from Norway’s kings – a task that becomes harder when she falls in love.

Orphaned Mercy is taken from the Glasgow Poorhouse by a man with ill intentions. When she realises the true horror of his evil plans, she escapes to London. She is fortunate to meet Ann Radcliffe, a successful yet reclusive author of Gothic horror novels. Mercy joins Ann’s household and is taught storytelling. But even though she’s finally found a home, she longs to discover her true identity.

Mia is given the ancient book Systir Saga at the funeral of her cousin. With her best friend, Cait, she travels from the Blue Mountains to the UK on a quest to decipher the runes and learn more about her mysterious heritage. They journey to an ancient rock mound on a windswept island in the Orkneys. There, Mia seeks to unearth the secrets of the Systir Saga.

~*~

The final book in the Systir Saga takes us all the way back to 1066, and the final days of the Viking Era and a time of Goddess Worship as Christianity took over and pushed pagan beliefs away, taking over and converting those it conquered. Astrid is a priestess, yet she also loves her childhood friend, Olav, destined to be king of Norway. As she is swept up in his world, she is called upon to keep the secrets of the Goddess Nerthus as she records the royal goings on, until she learns she has to fight for her beliefs and leave something behind for future generations. Then we meet Mercy in 1816 – an orphan, who is suddenly turfed out of the poorhouse, and then escapes an awful life with an undertaker. She heads to London, where novelist Ann Radcliffe takes her in, and shares literature with her. Mercy feels she has found a home, but is it really who she is? Mercy is another link in the chain searching for who she is.

And in the present day, as Mia mourns the loss of her cousin, she receives a book from her aunt with a list of women’s names going back hundreds of years. This sets her on a journey to Scotland to find out more about the book – and more about her family.

In this book, many of the stories from the first book come full circle and have links back to the first three women we encounter. We find out where the book started, where it ended and more about the middle story in the first book, which links back to Betsy Gray and her sister. We learn how each woman is connected through the matrilineal line and the power that this has for everyone in the books, the characters and those who are merely mentioned. Mia’s story cleverly wraps everything from all the stories and unites everyone dead and alive in their family, and looks to the role of women in history and the future.

Throughout the series, the women have been made to feel silenced by those in power at each point in history that is explored, usually by men, the patriarchal system, laws, or religion that determines how women are seen throughout history. This series suggests the existence of matriarchal and goddess worship societies beyond the pantheons of polytheism that we know about, where the main deity was a goddess – a female spiritual figure, and societies led by priestesses – and it is possible that we did have these societies, but they’ve been erased by the victors of history – usually male, and usually Christian. It would be an interesting thing to uncover and bring into the historical record across the world and across cultures, and see how richer and also, how accurate things might become when we hear all voices in history, not just the powerful, the winners, the ones who were able to dictate what was recorded and what wasn’t.

I loved that this series celebrated women in history, women in storytelling, and women in society at different points in time and the changes, however small, they were able to make for the women who were to come after them, and the way everything was linked by Mia, Paisley, and Fiona and their immediate family in Australia, but also, their links to the past. The Systir Saga is a celebration of womanhood and the role that women have played in history and society and show that what they did has often been much more than what history assumes – raising children, having families, and never leaving the home. This may have been the reality for some women, but others were warriors, standing up against the patriarchy for themselves, their sisters, and their daughters. Some of them gave their lives so that other women would live and be safe. From tragic endings to hopeful ones, we see a varied spectrum of female experiences throughout history, which reassures us that even if the official records don’t always give women a voice, they did indeed have one, and series like this show that we can give women of the past and ourselves a voice amidst the noise that tries to shut us down.

Welcome to the Systirhood!

2 thoughts on “Saga by Nikki McWatters”

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