Icefall by Matthew J Kirby
I didn’t love it, but I liked it a lot. It was indeed a fine read.
It is about betrayal. It is about telling stories. It is about becoming who you are meant to be. It is about looking below the surface to find people as they really are. It is a suspenseful mystery.
There, that sounds good doesn’t it?
It is beautifully written. Viking history and sense of place in time are elegantly portrayed.
“The fjord is freezing over. I watch it from the cliff near our hall, and each day the ice claims more of the narrow winding of ocean. It squeezes out the waves and the blue-black water, while it squeezes us in. Just as Father intended it to. Winter is here to wall us up, to bury us in snow and keep us safe.
Today, there is a cold wind that bears no other smell but the ghostly scent of frost. I feel it through my furs and woolen dress, down to my skin…
All of the sky looks like a burnt log in the morning hearth, cold, spent, ashen.”
Those snippets are just from the first few pages!
Solveig and her two siblings, Asa and Harald, have been sent by their father, the king, to a remote fjord for their own safety. As winter encroaches and their food dwindles, they wait for a summons home. When a ship finally arrives, it carries a small contingent of berserkers who have been sent to keep them safe throughout the winter. Alric, the skald, (story teller) has accompanied them.
Solveig is the middle child and a girl. Asa, her older sister, is valued for her beauty, and Harald, her younger brother, because he is the heir. Plain Solveig is seen by herself and her father as having no value.
Then Alric takes her on as an apprentice skald and Solveig starts to come into her own power and confidence.
As winter advances Solveig’s ominous dream appears to be coming true. Terror seizes them as they face poison, sabotage and treachery. The royal family have no idea who they can trust.
There are stories within stories inside this book. I loved the seamless integration of Norse Myth into the main body of the tale. I loved the adventure. I loved the characters. I liked that even the villains were complex characters.
I loved the ruminations on the truth of stories. “A story is not a thing. A story is an act. It only exists in the brief moment of its telling… I begin to let myself believe my own story, that my words can summon shield-maidens. That my stories can shape the world…”
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The reviews were great - I was prepared to be wowed. Perhaps that was the problem. Nothing really lives up to such high expectations. In spite of all this, I might even reread this one.