Intertwining her novel’s plot with several distinctive threads – Norse mythology, folk tales and early medieval Christianity – Shelley Kassian creates a colorful tapestry: a story of a cursed nobleman and exiled princess, of dark and light, good and evil; a tale in which many things are not as they seem at the first glance.
Set in pseudo-medieval times, The Scarlet Mark is the first installment of the envisioned Odin Saga. The story is told from the limited point of view of the various characters, who move the plot forward taking turns in narrating it. From the main protagonists, Princess Scarlett and Lord Nicolai, to the evil queen-sorceress Cynara and Nicolai’s butler, to King Rickard and his first queen, Regana – everyone gets a chance to tell a part of the story, making it more intimate and adding to its dynamic.
The Scarlett Mark uses the familiar elements of some of the best-known folktales, thus establishing a connection with the readers. Cynara’s dramatic appearance in the middle of the wedding celebration immediately brings into mind the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty; like Snow White’s stepmother, she sends Scarlett to her almost certain death; she curses a man into a beast … Not unlike the terrifying and gruesome early versions of fairytales, The Scarlet Mark is a dark story. The only light in this darkness is the courage and determination of a young girl.
The sharp contrast between the main characters and their almost reverse roles give this ‘medieval romantasy’ quite a contemporary flavor. Instead of a helpless princess, we have one who fights her own battles; instead of a knight in shining armor, we have more or less helpless middle-aged man. Princess Scarlet is young, selfless and inexperienced, but clever and feisty, therefore the perfect counterbalance to the much older, cold, and self-centered Lord Nicolai. Even before his former lover, Cynara, cursed him, Nicolai was a prisoner of his own arrogance and there was darkness in his heart. Scarlett’s heart is pure and innocent. Nicolai gives up and accepts his grim fate. Scarlett doesn’t; instead she tries the impossible – to free both Lord Nicolai and herself form her evil stepmother and Nicolai’s former lover, Cynara.
Being the first book in the series, The Scarlet Mark inevitably leaves some loose ties (the relationship between Scarlett and Nicolai), some stories unfinished (Scarlett’s mystical connection to the principal Norse deity, Odin) and some only touched upon (the stories of Scarlett’s mother, father, sisters, stepbrother; Nicolai’s bride Lady Alexandra).
But the tale leaves Princess Scarlett and Lord Nicolai changed – her more mature and stronger, him a better man, open for a more meaningful future – and ready for new adventures.
And it leaves readers waiting to hear more about them.