Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Review: Ice Land

Here's the second of my three reviews for the February 2010 Historical Novels Review.

Betsy Tobin, Plume Original, pb $15, 374pp, 978-0-452-29569-8

Iceland, at the dawn of a new millennium. King Olaf's Christian missionaries are attempting to convert the fiercely independent landholders and laborers of the island, but many still cling to the old ways, their reverence for the Aesir, the gods and goddesses of Scandinavia. The Aesir live among them, (mostly) unbeknownst to the people, as well as in their enclave in the far heights of Iceland, known as Asgard. The story follows the intertwining tales of Freya, goddess of love and fertility, and her quest for the Brisingamen, and Fulla, granddaughter of a wealthy landowner and her quest for love and independence. Their stories play out against the very real landscape of Iceland, itself a strong personality throughout the book.

Tobin introduces us to winning, well-drawn characters (Dvalin in particular) with personalities and stories that make you care deeply about their fates. The stories are told in the present tense like the Norse sagas – as Freya explains at the start, "My tale starts and ends with Hekla, and I will tell it as it happens, in the manner of the bards." This gives the book a sense of intimacy, and urgency, that works very well.

Beautifully plotted, the stories weave together in surprising and very satisfying ways, supported by excellent pacing and lovely language. The author calls it her love letter to Iceland and her people, and you can feel it in every chapter.

You don't need to have any knowledge of Norse myths or of the sagas, but I expect it would make this book even more compelling. All around, a thoroughly enjoyable book. Highly recommended.

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