If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that I am fascinated with Iceland. I have a thing for a few Icelandic bands and I think it's a beautiful island country. I would love to visit some day. However, I have read very little fiction that takes place in Iceland. When I saw an offer for Betsy Tobin's Ice Land, I jumped on it. Though I didn't totally fall in love with the story, I fell even more in love with Iceland through this book.
Set around AD 1000, there are a few narratives weaved together to form this book. First, we meet Freya, the Norse goddess of love. In Tobin's vision, Asgard is located behind a mountain in an unreachable part of Iceland. Freya learns from an old seer that it is her destiny to find a powerful and precious necklace, the Brisingamen, crafted by the dwarves that live in the extended reaches of the volcano Hekla. Then we join Fulla, an orphaned girl living with her grandfather. She is soon coming to the age of marriage just as her grandfather is considering the end of his way of life as Christianity spreads on the island. The final main character that we follow is Dvalin, son of the Dwarf King and a swan goddess. He is one of the four makers of the Brisingamen and he was also the best friend of Fulla's father.
The narrative switches chapter by chapter between these three characters and intersects where their journeys cross paths. This is one of the shortcomings of this book. The narrative switches too frequently at first to let the reader engage with any of the characters. It is like a soap opera with one short scene at a time. Yet once the stories are better established, the movement is not as noticeable. I've read some complaints about the terseness of the writing but I think it's meant to have the same cadence as the old stories, the Icelandic Myths and Norse mythologies. It definitely reads more like an oral history written down. Again, it takes a bit of getting used to but then it fades away into the background.
I think the main strength of the book is the author's love for Iceland. It comes through in every description of the land and the people. I have seen many photos and videos of the country and I feel that Tobin really succeeded in confirming my mental picture of the landscape. If you enjoy mythology and a bit of fantasy, this could be a good fit. This book will be released next Tuesday, August 25th.
Imagining a stone-lined natural hot spring on a cool afternoon,
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