After reading garbage book after garbage book, sometimes the only thing you need is a book that is simply good. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated to get its point across or be hundreds of pages longs, filled with info dumps for half the book before something interesting happens. And I think that’s why I enjoyed The First Girl Child so much: it was such a simple fantasy story that said what it wanted to say. It didn’t feel overdone with fantasy elements or creatures, nor did it have a world that made your brain feel like it was going to explode. It was easy to read, easy to understand, and ultimately easy to love.
This is going to be a terrible review, since I finished this over a week ago, but just know I loved this book and that’s all that matters.
I’ve never read a book from Amy Harmon before but I have to say, she has quite the lovely prose. Again, it’s not too stiff or brain bleeding that makes it hard to read or hard to keep up with, and sticks to what is meant to be said. And yet, there was still some underlying whimsical element to it without being too showy, not adding in flowery language just for a few pull quotes to be splattered across social media until it loses what little meaning it had in the first place. I think my point is that Harmon wrote this book simply as a story to be told, from start to end, and didn’t do more than necessary. It wasn’t too heavy, nor was it too light; it was just right. The third person narrative was perfect and exactly what I wanted, though I do wish there was a bit more of a deeper connection with the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings. I also think the timeline was a bit iffy, and we all know I’m a stickler, but I think that because in this case I just wanted to get to Bayr and Alba in their adult years that I wasn’t wholly bothered by it, therefore I’m still quite happy with how the writing turned out.
The real shining star of this book is the lore and mythology and I was beyond fascinated with it. If you read this book for one reason, it should be that. In her Author’s Note, Harmon says that while she based this story’s mythology on that of Norse mythology, the idea and concept of Saylok was her own creation, but with the way she wrote and constructed it you’d never know. Even I didn’t know; I believed in it completely because of how well it was done. I loved the concept of Saylok being the father of their nation, by creating the six territories/clans with his own children, and how each clan was represented by its own animal because it was believed that the six children were turned into animals but for one day of the year. I loved the concept of rune magic, how it wasn’t quite who had rune blood that made the magic dangerous but what they chose to do with it, which is why the practice of runes was so sacred and protected. Most of all, I loved that it felt like the mythology, magic, and beliefs of Saylok essentially coexisted with our world, often noting other religions and beliefs particularly of the Western world, which I thought was absolutely fascinating. Any time Christianity was mentioned, or the idea of other gods, it was never with condescension or dismissing those other beliefs but with respect, and Saylok’s structure of Keepers began with a Christian priest. There really is no other way to describe this book’s lore but being fascinating, and so fascinatingly simple, and it makes the whole story worth it.
I think the main point or message of this book is not just the concept of respecting women the way they deserve but also with dispelling the concept of toxic masculinity, both which revolve around the character of Banruud. He was the reason for the curse upon Saylok that Desdemona cast right before her death, where no new daughters will be born in Saylok until the men essentially learn to respect women the way they should rather than using them at their disposal, the way Banruud had used her. For over 20 years, not one single girl child was born in Saylok, no matter how many times the people tried or how many new women they bought or stole over. And this was the lesson Desdemona intended to teach, I think, how women weren’t there to suit the men’s needs or to be used simply for a man’s pleasure or continuing his line. She felt hurt and disrespected by someone she once thought loved her but learned it was all a lie and she never again wanted a woman to feel how Banruud made her feel. And with her son, Bayr, he represented everything Desdemona wanted to teach. That a man can be as big and as strong as Thor, be blessed with every gift imaginable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good heart.
Bayr was such an amazing character in my opinion because, as I said, Desdemona ensured he was blessed with all the strength and power imaginable, but he was also cursed with a stutter, or a twisted tongue. But that stutter wasn’t what defined Bayr or what held him back. Instead, it made him strong both in physical power and in his mind and heart because he knew how to understand people, how to lead people without being cruel or intimidating. He used his power to protect those he loved, whether it was his uncle or his grandfather or his clan, or even Alba. He was protective without being possessive, a leader everyone looked up to and respected, all because he had the best heart. That is what made him a strong man, why Desdemona believed he would be the one to break her curse, and why I loved him so much. All the characters had something special to bring to the table, with Dagmar being the father Bayr deserved, with Ghost carrying on Desdemona’s legacy, and even Dred unlearning his past mistakes and striving to be better all because of Bayr, and I don’t think the story would’ve been the same without them. Part of me does wish that Alba had a little more of a role in the story, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy her because I did, but I just wish there was a little more from her. She didn’t feel as developed as Bayr, or even Ghost, but I think I still understand the purpose of her character and what she was meant to represent.
I also wish that there was more time to develop or flush out the romance between Bayr and Alba, because it just tugged at my heart strings so much, but I know that wasn’t the main focal point of the story so I’m not too pressed. Their dynamic was so good that I just thought it deserved to be explored more but I since I understand how the story played out I’m fine with it, though I think this is where Harmon’s simplicity kind of falls short and fails her. But I do read a lot of romance so it makes sense why I’d be greedy for more. However, if you were able to get through their reunion scene and not burst into tears then you’re more dead inside than I am.
Honestly, this is the type of story I’d expect when reading an Adult fantasy book. It was interesting and enticing, it had something to say without being overly complicated or cliche about it, and ultimately it didn’t make me want to put my head through a wall. I’m glad to see that there will be another book in this world, and I’m hoping to see a lot more in the future, and I’ll happily recommend this book for many years to come. God, I love being in love with a book again; it feels so good.
Bayr of Saylok, bastard son of a powerful and jealous chieftain, is haunted by the curse once leveled by his dying mother. Bartered, abandoned, and rarely loved, she plagued the land with her words: From this day forward, there will be no daughters in Saylok.
Raised among the Keepers at Temple Hill, Bayr is gifted with inhuman strength. But he’s also blessed with an all-too-human heart that beats with one purpose: to protect Alba, the first girl child born in nearly two decades and the salvation for a country at risk.
Now the fate of Saylok lies with Alba and Bayr, whose bond grows deeper with every whisper of coming chaos. Charged with battling the enemies of their people, both within and without, Bayr is fueled further by the love of a girl who has defied the scourge of Saylok.
What Bayr and Alba don’t know is that they each threaten the king, a greedy man who built his throne on lies, murder, and betrayal. There is only one way to defend their land from the corruption that has overtaken it. By breaking the curse, they could defeat the king…but they could also destroy themselves.
From the New York Times bestselling author comes a breathtaking fantasy of a cursed kingdom, warring clans, and unexpected salvation.