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River of Shadows by Karina Halle

River of Shadows

by Karina Halle


Book 1 in the Underworld Gods series

When 24-year old Hanna Heikkinen's estranged father dies, she reluctantly makes the trip to Northern Finland for his funeral.

Being in the enchanting land of ice and snow feels miles away from Hanna's busy life back in Los Angeles, especially under the complicated circumstances.

But when Hanna discovers that her father's body is missing, that's when things really get weird. A mysterious man, Rasmus, tells Hanna the truth: her father was a powerful shaman who went into Tuonela, the Realm of the Dead, in order to barter for more life, and has been held captive by Tuoni, the God of Death. The only way her father can be freed is if she travels with Rasmus into the mythical underworld to rescue him.

Willing to do anything to have a second-chance with her father, Hanna accompanies Rasmus into the dark and bloody realm, traveling via the River of Shadows, stalked by dangerous creatures, monsters, and the living dead, until they finally come into the haunted kingdom ruled by Death and his family.

Only for her to be captured and held prisoner by the God of Death himself.

Turns out Death is intrigued by Hanna's beauty and fierceness and makes a bargain with her. If she marries him, and spends an eternity in the Realm of the Dead as his wife, he'll set her father free.

But even the most noble sacrifices come with hidden costs, and Hanna's might involve the most unexpected of all things: her heart.


Fantasy Romance


River of Shadows by Karina Halle is the first book in the Underworld Gods series, and centers on Hanna, and Tuoni, the God of Death. Hanna travels to her home country of Finland for her fathers funeral. But when she discovers her father is not really dead, a young man named Rasmas tells her the truth: that her father is a powerful shaman, and that he travelled to Tuonela - the land of the dead - to ask Tuoni for a longer lifespan after a cancer diagnosis. Instead, Tuoni is holding her father captive, and Rasmas takes Hanna to Tuonela, to help him recover her father. But when Hanna is captured herself, she makes a trade - her for her cured father - and entranced by her beauty and strength, he agrees. Hanna is determined to find a way to escape the God of Death and his lands, but her heart might get in the way.

So I came across this series when I got the book in my monthly bookish box adult subscription, and I was immediately drawn in my the cover, and the spin on finnish mythology. That being said, while I enjoyed the book for the most part, there was also problems for me. It felt a little too rushed. The chemistry felt missing from Tuoni and Hanna, which made the sex a little meh for me. The sex was HOT AS FUCK, but the lacking chemistry made a big difference for me. There is not really any romance. But I liked the characters individually, and I enjoyed that Karina wrote both of them as very imperfect people. Hanna loved her father, but let life get in the way of seeing or talking to him often. Tuoni is definitely a morally grey character. It makes them more relatable. BUT, things go a little too smoothly for Hanna in Tuonela, which bugged me a bit.

It was well written, with some pretty deep and insightful passages about grieving the death of a parent (no doubt as a result of Karina's. I loved to read a book that centers around a different mythology than greek. And hey, I love greek mythology, but there is so much else in the world, and its fascinating to see new, more unique books out there focusing on it. I think if there was more chemistry between Hanna and Tuoni, and Hanna had more difficulties adjusting to Tuonela, I would have liked it more.

I think River of Shadows has a great idea, and the writing is strong enough that I will give the second book a try. But as of right now, my feelings for it are lukewarm at best.

Hanna: “Papa,”

I cry out, my voice breaking and echoing in my ears. I sound like a child, I feel like a child. Oh god, I would do anything to be a child again, to go back, to be with him. I want to be young again, I want to do this over again and get it right this time, I want to tell my mother that I’m not leaving him, that I’m staying with him.

Hanna: “I want to go back,”

I whisper hoarsely, my face buried in my hands.

Hanna: “I want to go back to when I was your little girl. I want another chance. I don’t…I can’t move on like this. Not in this world. Not without you.”

But the room gives nothing. All there is is the casket at the end and my father’s wonderful smiling face beside it and all I feel is so much despair and sorrow and regret, a deeper cut than bone deep. A cut that will never ever heal. A scar for all my life. Right in the heart of me. Hanna: “Can you blame me?! What kind of person would I be if I just believed what you were saying about my father going off to the Land of the Dead?”

Rasmas: “An open-minded one. Your father assured me you were open-minded.”

Hanna: “Yeah! I am! I have crystals that give me good energy! I believe in my horoscope half the time, and I think the Ancient Egyptians were in cahoots with aliens. But even the most open-minded person has their limits, and this was my limit.” Tuoni: “Did you know I forged this sword?”

Death says, staring down at it in his hand.

Tuoni: “One of my many talents. My hands might be deadly, but I assure you they are especially skilled where it counts.” Tuoni: “You don’t even know me and yet I already get under your skin. Don’t know what that says about me, but I think I like it." Tuoni: "He will do anything to stop you from making this trade, but it’s already done. You can call me Death. And I will call you mine.” Hanna: “I never gave much thought to what I deserve. I was just living without appreciating it, without recognizing it. Maybe this is what I deserve, for twenty-four years of just floating along the surface, not grabbing onto life while I had it.”

Tuoni: “Mmhmmph. That’s very dramatic. I can’t tell if it’s amusing or annoying.” Tuoni: “I have three sayings in life,”

Death says, ticking off three fingers, their intricate metal coverings glinting orange in the desert light.

Tuoni: “Never trust the living. Never trust a God. And never trust a redhead.”

He glances at me.

Tuoni: “I’m afraid you’ve already done all three.” Tuoni: “Make a fist in the mane,”

Death says as he swings himself up and I find myself lodged between the unicorn’s thick, partially skeletonized neck and Death’s armored body.

Tuoni: “You’ll want to hold on for your pointless little life. Pull as much as you like. Sarvi can’t feel anything.”

Sarvi: Once again, sir, that’s not exactly true

, a placid voice with a quasi-British accent says, seemingly from out of nowhere. I look around for the source.

Hanna: “Who was that?”

Tuoni: “You heard that?”

Death asks in quiet awe. I nod.

Sarvi: Oh perfect, someone else to claim to hear me and then proceed to completely ignore me

, the voice goes on.

Tuoni: “That’s Sarvi,”

Death explains. My eyes nearly fall out.

Hanna: “The unicorn can talk?”

Tuoni: “Unfortunately.” Tuoni: "Inmost goes fathoms deep into the ground, almost as deep as Amaranthus goes into the sky. No surprise, considering how many…offenders there are.”

Hanna: “You mean sinners.”

He clears his throat.

Tuoni: “No. Not quite. We’re all sinners, little bird. Every one of us. To sin is to be human, to be human is to sin.”

Hanna: “But you’re a God.”

Tuoni: “Gods are the biggest sinners of them all.” Tuoni: “I think I just saw my future in your eyes. And I saw your future too. Think before you act, little bird. You’re not ready for flight yet.” Tuoni: “Good morning, fairy girl. How are you planning on annoying me today?” Tuoni: “Oh, I am going to enjoy having you here. It’s unfortunate you probably won’t feel the same,”

Hanna: “You don’t know that,”

Tuoni: “You’re right. You might like it in the end. Oh, you’ll fight me on everything, you’ll hate me with all your fury. But you might love to hate me, and that will make all the difference.”

Hanna: “I will never love you,”

I find myself sneering. Good job with the make him fall in love you thing, Hanna. Another chuckle.

Tuoni: “Good. I wouldn’t want to think any less of you." I laugh.

Hanna: “Likes me? I’m his prisoner. He’s literally promised to ruin and destroy me for eternity.”

Lovia: “Ah, he says a lot of things. His bark is worse than his bite. I mean, most of the time. Sure, sometimes he’ll randomly give someone,”

she lowers her voice dramatically and wiggles her fingers,

Lovia: “the hand,”

then she smiles

Lovia: “but who doesn’t lose their temper every now and then? Hanna: “I just want to see your eyes,”

I tell him, my words slurring.

Tuoni: “Is that so? What else do you want to see?”

I may be drunk, but I know when I’m picking up on innuendo.

Hanna: “Whatever you want me to,”

I answer. Too boldly. I feel the heat of his stare as it passes over my face, down my neck, to my chest. My nipples harden under my bodice. That pinch of desire hits me again and my mouth opens slightly, a small gasp emitting. Good lord, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s like I’m actually wanting something to happen between us.

Tuoni: “And what can I see in exchange?”

he’s practically purring now. It makes me want to shiver.

Tuoni: “What can I have? Hanna,”

he whispers, drawing out my name as he reaches for my neck and trails a gloved finger down my throat,

Tuoni: “you are playing a game with me, aren’t you? I just don’t know if you’re ready for the game.” Tuoni: “Like it or not, you’re mine. But if you choose to like it, you might even love it.” Tuoni: “Good morning, Hanna. Will you take a walk with me?”

Oh, fuck. I’m dead aren’t I? I’m getting yeeted by his hand. Tuoni: “When I’m done with you, little bird, you’ll forget everyone you ever let inside you. You’ll forget every climax you’ve ever had. Every tongue that’s licked your body, every finger that’s touched your skin, every cock that’s fucked your cunt. After this, there will only be me.” Tuoni: “Fuck yes, you’ll take me,”

he grinds out, his fingers digging into my hips as he keeps squeezing himself in.

Tuoni: “You’ll take all of me, every thick, hard inch of my cock until there’s stars in your eyes and no air left in your lungs.” Okay. So it seems like even when I do get the chance to skip out of here, that there’s a chance that all the realms in all the universes might have to suffer until the end of time. Cool. Cool, cool, cool. Tuoni: “Yes. Fly again, little bird. I want you sore in the morning.” Hanna: “I’ll miss many things about you. But what I won’t miss is someone listening to me have sex and making notes about it to discuss with me the next day.” Hanna: “Stop saying that I’m yours, I’m not!”

I yell, the adrenaline turning my fear into anger, tired of feeling like a possession, like I don’t have a soul and feelings, like I’m not a person with my own agenda.

Tuoni: “You are mine! That was what you agreed to! That was part of the deal. You’re mine, Hanna, and you will stay mine for the rest of eternity, whether you like it or not!”

Hanna: “Then I don’t like it and I never will,”

I sneer at him, trying to get free of his hold. It’s fruitless.

Tuoni: “You lie,”

he growls, yanking me even closer to him until I’m flattened against his chest, his other hand going to my back and holding me there.

Tuoni: “You like it when I’m deep inside you, you love it when I’m making you come. You can’t get enough of me, and you know it, and that’s what makes you so angry, because you want me just as much as I want you.” And then suddenly he’s on me, covering my lips with his, and my world is blown apart because he’s kissing me for the first time, a deep, searing kiss that makes my toes curl, his tongue moving into me like second skin. Holy shit. This is it. The kiss of Death. And, fuck, I want more. Tuoni: “Invite all the Gods and Lesser Gods. Tell them it will be the first formal appearance of the new Goddess of Death.”

My eyes widen.

Hanna: “Wait, what?”

Sarvi: I beg your pardon?

Sarvi snorts in disbelief at the same time. Death glances down at me, his eyes tempestuous.

Tuoni: “You’re to be my bride, Hanna. This shouldn’t be a surprise to you.”

Sarvi: Well, I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, but it’s a most shocking development to me

Hanna: “And me!”

I tell Death. Good lord. Lovia: “My father has a saying, never trust the dead.”

Hanna: “I thought his saying was never trust the living? Which, by the way, he got from Beetlejuice.”

Lovia: “Never trust the dead, never trust the living, never trust a God, and never trust a redhead. Which is all because of my redheaded mother.”

Hanna: “So basically trust no one.”

Lovia: “Bingo.”


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