Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned reminds me of the language in which we use to describe UFC cards. Nine short stories, blander at the bottom, stories with lots of jabs and one-two combos.Broken American families plagued by divorce, children and adults left to navigate the underground tunnels dug or left behind by other loved ones, people trying to make something of themselves. Efficient prose combined with safe plots made me want to skip ahead to the championship fights.

The contender for Fight of the Night comes in the fourth bout via ‘Down Through The Valley.’ Extra-marital affairs aren’t a particularly new trope but the idea of having a protagonist drive his daughter and ex-wife’s new partner in a multiple-hour car ride is funny to even think about. It’s the chance for the main character to right some wrongs and if the tone hasn’t been set over the past three stories, you just know he’s going to continue failing, despite the first-person narrated good intentions.

The most memorable stories were ‘On The Show’ and the collection’s eponymous story. The former zips around characters at a fair, from the rivaling children of single parents on a date to the man who just got a job tending to ride machinery. A pace as quick as a rollercoaster, the moment you think the the story has settled on a particular plot, Tower yanks you elsewhere.

‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’ made me groan in the first sentence, what with it mentioning “dragons and crop blights” and character names like Pila, Naddod, and Scuttlebutt. Despite my contempt for anything reeking of fantasy, I’m glad I stuck with it as Tower reveals a modern American love story in a Viking context of pillage and looting.

A hydra flew in last night and ran off Rolf Hierdal’s sheep. We can’t be putting up with this shit.

The juxtaposition of language and setting works a charm. Of course, I think to myself, Vikings would have had their own slang, their moments where they had a go at their bosses for working them too much, their discussions in which they discussed their aspirations of simply being at home with their significant others.

Everything, it seems, is universal.

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