Is revenge a dish best served cold? For some people, that would be true, but if you never take into account the future generations that might be affected, retribution can seem quite petty. And when you include family in the mix, things can start to get real messy. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and novelist, Amy Harmon, who started writing to help pay the bills, takes a hard look at this very act with The First Girl Child, a heart-stopping fantasy bursting with blood rites, runes, Nordic mythology and how the power of love can help break a curse.
Bayr wasn’t born under the best circumstances. His mother, rebuffed by an affair with a high-ranking chieftain from another tribe, dies during childbirth but not before she places a curse on their region, Saylok. And she did it with blood to seal it for good. Her brother was the only witness to the curse and he agrees to keep her dying secret, largely for his nephew’s future. Understandably, holding onto family secrets can be a heavy burden to carry as there often isn’t a proper outlet to vent your frustrations.
In the moment, I can understand the anger around broken promises. It’s the typical age-old trope about a man declaring to a woman he’ll leave his wife for. Promises like that should never be believed, especially if that chieftain happens to be next in line to be king. Unfortunately, a lot of people choose to hear what they want to hear.
Though Bayr grows up not realizing who his real father is, he maintains a peaceful life with the Keepers at Temple Hill, with his uncle. When every child born after Bayr is male, everyone rejoices at first. It’s funny how the sight of specific genitalia can make people rejoice. However, years later, when every other newborn is still male, people soon realize the problems that lay in store for them. It’s similar to what China realized after always prizing male children over females during their disastrous one-child policy; it’s nigh impossible to maintain civilization with such a disparity between genders.
The remaining female children are rounded up and protected, sent to the Keepers to be Supplicants. In the end, the entire region of Saylok realizes how important women are to them. Without women, there wouldn’t be anyone to give birth to future generations. It’s a lesson to be grateful to the women who are here now because if you anger a woman, it’s likely she’ll try to claim vengeance later on. Ultimately, petty revenge hurts everyone because such emotions are like a virus, infecting everyone they touch.
The First Girl Child was a beautifully written story and it pulled me in right away. I loved the integration of runes, Norse mythology, and fantasy tropes set alongside timeless storylines of betrayal and vengeance. Harmon does an exceptional job of capturing your senses, even during the love story between Bayr and Alba. It’s also a story, sadly, that seems necessary to be retold from time to time, especially when society takes one-half of their population for granted. In the end, karma eventually comes for us all, so it’s best to choose how you want to treat others and what your legacy will be once you’re gone.