Ice Land by Betsy Tobin

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Ice Land by Betsy Tobin

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A modern day fairy story, straight out of Angela Carter. Love of the land comes most to the fore in a wonderfully creative take on the Norse pantheon.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Short Books
ISBN: 1906021341

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The gods of Asgard - Odin, Thor, Freya and the rest - were driven out of Iceland by Christianity at the end of the first millennium. Ice Land is set at this time of upheaval and is told in the old oral tradition, one in which the boundary between god and mortal is blurred.

Freya, the goddess of love, understands that society is under threat. Warned by the Fates of an impending catastrophe, she goes in search of a marvellous gold necklace, one that enchants all who see it. And Freya is no exception. Overcome with longing, she sells herself sexually to its four dwarvish makers. In the land of mortals, Fulla is in love with Vili, a boy from the next homestead with unusually radical opinions. However, she is destined to marry another - the son of a Christian convert. Fulla's fierce independence makes her rebellion inevitable. And as the narrative continues, the paths of the two women draw ever closer.

Probably the first thing that hits as you read Ice Land is the landscape. Beautiful but harsh, it dominates the book and Tobin's great love for it is always apparent. The threat of volcanic eruption and restorative hot springs add heat to the crystal clear cold and this comes across so well. People in eleventh century Iceland lived in scattered homesteads but community meant a great deal and this dichotomy of life and heart is perfectly expressed. Religion was an inextricable part of daily life and here, at a time of religious upheaval, lies the conflict in the narrative.

Both Freya and Fulla are strong characters; feisty, independent, and impetuous. Christianity perhaps held a special threat for women in Viking society, who had many powerful and influential figures in their history. But the tension in the book comes as much from the land itself as it does from any of its various narrators - goddess, dwarf or mortal. While reading, you feel its pull and you see individual stories as part of its greater whole.

If you enjoy modern interpretations of the oldest of stories, in the vein of Angela Carter, you will love Ice Land.

My thanks to the nice people at Short Books for sending a copy for me to enjoy.

Fans of historical fiction might also enjoy Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore.

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