New Finnish Fantasy: Hän Sanoi Nimekseen Aleia by Erika Vik

Finnish literature is not exactly known for its flourishing fantasy scene — we’ve mostly garnered attention with great names such as Arto Paasilinna and Sofi Oksanen who represent more realistic and gloomy storytelling. That might be about to change, however. Erika Vik’s debut novel Hän sanoi nimekseen Aleia rises up to challenge modern young adult fantasy classics such as the Twilight series. Hän sanoi nimekseen Aleia, the first part of a Kaksoisauringot-trilogy, creates a whole new world mixing the wild west and classic fantastic elements, resulting in a steampunk-y vibe. At first sight the novel resembles typical young adult fantasy fiction, but a closer look suggests that it has the potential to appeal to older audiences as well.

The story kicks off as a human girl Aleia appears unconscious on the doorstep of Corildon, who is a seleesi (a superior race who can sense changes in and to some extent alter the elements). As Corildon finds out that Aleia, who suffers from amnesia, can also sense what he calls “bad winds”, he decides to help her discover the truth behind her abilities and recover her memories. Together they embark on a journey that will lead them towards self-discovery and forces them to deal with their inner demons.

On a deeper level the novel discusses themes such as recovering from loss and feeling like an outsider. The novel cleverly criticizes the misconceptions and prejudices we all have against all things stranger to us, which in the present political climate is an extremely current topic. In recent years social criticism in young adult literature has often emerged in the form of dystopian tales, such as the Hunger Games trilogy. Even though Hän sanoi nimekseen Aleia shares some common qualities with these stories, it presents a more complex world from that of post-war destruction and survival struggles. The reason why Vik’s novel has the potential to enter the international fantasy scene lies in its ability to offer readers something completely new while at the same time embracing many of the classic fantasy elements: an epic journey, mystical creatures and magical stones are all present in the novel. Now that dystopian stories have given way to newer concepts, the time may be right for Vik’s western fantasy to strike and conquer.

As exciting and unpredictable the novel is, there is one thing that got me a bit wary throughout the novel. Aleia, the mysterious main character, at first glance appears to be a strong-willed and determined young woman, but as soon as she loses her memory she subsides into a confused and powerless girl. In terms of her memory loss this makes sense to some extent, but her inability to act when necessary and the way she surrenders to Corildon’s will seems frustrating to someone who was already getting used to the era of Katniss Everdeens. Luckily all is not lost however — Aleia still has a lot of potential to grow into a proactive and independent woman, so there’s a lot to expect from the sequel.

In terms of the language, Hän sanoi nimekseen Aleia is delightful to read. Vik has a way with words that gives the novel almost a movie-like feel, without sounding tacky. The dialogue flows nicely and there is no sign of the awkwardness that in my experience sometimes plagues Finnish fantasy. The world Vik has created is so carefully thought out and so credible, that the reader is immediately sucked in. As a whole Hän sanoi nimekseen Aleia is a refreshing read that hopefully will achieve the success it deserves.

Photo by Maija Huitu