Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don’t forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book. 

Author’s name: Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Title of book and/or series: The Songweaver’s Vow
Brief summary of the story:
When Euthalia’s father trades her to Viking raiders, her best hope is to be made a wife instead of a slave. She gets her wish — sort of — when she is sacrificed as a bride to a god.
Her inhuman husband seems kind, but he visits only in the dark of night and will not allow her to look upon him. By day Euthalia becomes known as a storyteller, spinning ancient Greek tales to entertain Asgard’s gods and monsters.
When one of her stories precipitates a god’s murder and horrific retribution, Euthalia discovers there is a monster in her bed as well. Alone in a hostile Asgard, Euthalia must ally with a spiteful goddess to sway Odin himself before bloody tragedy opens Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world.
Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:
Asgard, per Norse mythology, is a world alongside our own Midgard (“middle earth”), invisibly connected and yet a physical place itself. It is named for the Æsir, the gods who live there. I based this Asgard heavily on 9th century Denmark.
If we were to visit Asgard as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
Are you the partying or clubbing types? You can always find a roaring party or a good brawl at Valhöll, the Hall of the Slain where Odin collects the best warriors to fight when Ragnarok comes. (That’s the end of the world, when the Jötnar and monsters destroy everything in a great battle against the Æsir.)
If you’re seeking a less adventurous meal, you might try Sessrúmnir or Folkvang, halls kept by the goddess Freyja. Of course, all of these are open primarily to dead humans, so there’s not much of a steady tourist industry.
What dangers should we avoid in Asgard?
There are many Jötnar from Jötunnheim, the land of the devourers. (These may be called giants in other guide books, but that’s a poor translation. They are the beings which tear apart, just as the Æsir hold together.) But they are generally on good behavior while visiting Asgard. Meeting them on other terms, however, is not advised for the casual tourist, and the management cannot be held responsible for accidents. Or intentional murders.
There are many monsters in and around Asgard as well. Fenrir is an enormous wolf, intelligent and well-spoken and suspicious. Jörmungandr is a sea serpent large enough to encompass the Midgard ocean and bite his own tail. (You can see an artist’s suggestion on our guide book cover.)
Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Asgard?
The most notable food in Asgard is the epli, or fruits and berries, belonging to the goddess Idun and shared with the rest of the Æsir and Vanir. You are not likely to be served any, however, as they are for sustaining immortality. But while you’re here, do try the mead, the sweetest and strongest you’re likely to find in any of the many worlds.
What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Asgard?
Oh, we have all kinds! Axes and hammers are most common; even in your Midgard you have surely heard of Thor’s famous hammer Mjöllnir, which always hits its mark and always returns to him. The wealthier might also have swords, keen cutting blades for breaking shields and skulls.
We fight in groups, with powerful shield walls to link and guard us, and singly, man to man – or woman. And of course we’re happy to fight without any weapons at all, too! A warrior does not surrender merely for the lack of a weapon – a warrior is a weapon.
What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to Asgard?
Most humans arrive in Asgard by dying. Many of our tourists prefer an alternate method of travel, so the Bifröst is another popular choice. That’s the glimmering rainbow portal one sometimes sees in the sky. (Mind the fire.)
Once in Asgard, you can see all kinds of transportation. Odin has an eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Thor has a two-wheeled cart pulled by two powerful goats. Freyr rides an enormous golden boar with glowing bristles, or he has the beautiful ship Skíðblaðnir which can fold into a pouch to carry. Freyja’s cart is pulled by two cats, and that’s not really as funny as you might at first think.
What types of plants, animals, or sentient races might we encounter in Asgard that we don’t see on Earth?
Most of the plants and animals you’ll encounter will be recognizable, but significantly different in some way. Yggdrasill, the World Tree which holds all the worlds in its branches, is an ash like you might see at home in Midgard. Ratatoskr is a common red squirrel. Fenrir is a wolf, even if he’s the size of your turf house back home. Jörmungandr is a snake, just… oversized enough to fill the sea.
What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Asgard?
Magic is part of Asgard, from the epli which sustain the Æsir to the Bifröst which links Asgard to the other worlds, but we are careful with how we use it. Seiðr is a form of weaving magic practiced traditionally by women, very powerful, but we once warred over it and we fear those who use it too much.
Tell us about any sports, games, or activities that are available for entertainment in Asgard.
Oh, we have the best games! You can throw rocks or spears at Baldr (he’s immortal and no material thing can hurt him), you can play tafl or table games, you can drink and fight each other and then drink some more…. We also have splendid hunting and fishing.
Are the days of the week and months of the year the same in Asgard as on Earth? What holidays or special events are celebrated regularly there?
Our days of the week will be very familiar to you in Midgard! We have Tyr’s day, and Woden’s day*, and Thor’s day, and Frigga’s day, and then the weekend and Monday again. (Woden is what the Western lands of Midgard call Odin. They are bad at spelling. You should probably ransack them.)
And of course we have the same three seasons you do, spring, summer, and winter.* We celebrate three major seasonal festivals, Vetrnætr (“winter nights”), Jól in midwinter, and Sumarmál (“summer time”).
*Guide’s addendum: They do not mark autumn as a season. Winter begins in mid-October, celebrated with the Vetrnætr.
Is there a particular religion practiced in Asgard?  Please describe what it involves.
These are the gods themselves. They give little thought to what that entails, including their own responsibilities. (Sorry, but it’s true.)
What is the political or government structure in Asgard?  Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
Odin is the chief and Allfather. He sits at the end of his Valhöll and watches, never eating with the others, rarely speaking. But he knows things. He knows.
Are there any other unique cultural practices that we should be aware of if we visit Asgard?
You will find thralls (slaves) serving the Æsir and einherjar in the halls and farms. Don’t worry too much about them; they were generally killed in Midgard and sent to work here.
You’ll find that storytelling is an important part of both history and entertainment here. If you get the chance to listen to Bragi, definitely take it. He is a literal god of poetry.
Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?
Guide’s note: I visited Denmark to research Viking-era history, customs, culture, and ninth-century villages and life. I dragged my poor husband to so many historical sites and recreated villages and museums, and he waited so patiently for Legoland. What a trooper.
Author biography:
Laura VanArendonk Baugh overcame the dubious challenge of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills to become an award-winning writer of speculative fiction, mystery, and non-fiction. Her works have earned numerous accolades, including 3-star ratings (the highest possible) on Tangent’s “Recommended Reading” list. Laura speaks professionally on a variety of topics throughout the year, including writing, fan costuming, and her day job as a professional animal trainer and behavior consultant. Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com.
Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book(s)?  Please include links.
The Songweaver’s Vow is available in ebook and paperback at Amazon and anywhere books are sold. An audiobook is planned.
Where can readers connect with you online? 
My website has a lot of background information about my research and the mythology behind the story, and discussion and comments are always welcome over at my Facebook page. I also tweet!

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I hope you all enjoyed the trip to Asgard.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

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Please join us again next Monday for a trip to another world in next week’s edition of Realm Explorers!
-Annie Douglass Lima