Slave Girl by Jackie French

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Slave Girl by Jackie French

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A well-researched, gripping historical drama with strong female characters but with appeal for both boys and girls. Recommended for saga-loving children of 10 and up.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 282 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007216598

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Based on the Viking Groenlendinga Saga and Eirik's Saga, Slave Girl is told through the eyes of Hekja, an island girl taken captive in a Viking raid and transported first to Greenland and subsequently to Vinland. We like to think that Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, but in reality Norsemen had explored the coast of that continent over four centuries before him. They called it Vinland.

I loved the stories about Erik the Red and his son Leif Eriksson as a child and I never could understand why Columbus got all the credit. The thought of Viking longboats finding their way first from Denmark to Iceland, then to Greenland, and then all the way across to America is just so thrilling. Thrilling too, is Slave Girl. Hekja is just beginning to become accustomed to living without her father and brothers, who all died young in their hard, poor island existence, when Vikings raid her village, slaughter her mother and take her captive. She must begin a new life as a slave, or thrall.

Hekja's new mistress is Freydis, daughter of Erik the Red and sister to Leif Eriksson. Freydis is a true Viking. She can never settle in one place and she longs to be on the move. When Erik dies and Leif takes over the stewardship of his lands in Greenland, Freydis, in a move unusual for even a Viking woman, decides to lead a second expedition to Vinland, a land of plenty which Erik discovered some years previously. And Hekja must go too.

Gosh, it's a page-turner. Hekja is as wild and passionate as the landscapes she describes. She's as courageous and resilient as her Viking mistress and more than her mistress, she has a powerful sense of justice and reconciliation. And like Kevin Crossley-Holland's Gatty, she also has the gift of a beautiful, expressive voice.

I thoroughly enjoyed Slave Girl. It's that rare thing - an action-adventure story written principally for girls. I do love a strong heroine. Hekja knocks spots off most of the male characters in the book. But it's not a superficial piece of girl power - my eleven year old son devoured it in a single evening and pronounced it to be the best book he has read in a good long while. The pace and tension is riveting and better still, the research is impeccable. There's even a useful glossary at the back. The plot is straightforward enough for confident readers of ten and up to enjoy it and there is enough depth and authenticity for older teens and even adults like me to immerse themselves in it.

The Norse sagas aren't retold nearly often enough. Slave Girl comes highly recommended by Bookbag.

Thanks to Harper Collins for sending me this enjoyable book.

Jackie French is one of Australia's most popular children's writers. She's very prolific. Bookbag also enjoyed her picture book, Pete the Sheep. Another stirring piece of historical fiction featuring a strong female character is Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Younger readers interested in myth and legend may also enjoy Michael Morpurgo's translation of Beowulf.

Buy Slave Girl by Jackie French at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Slave Girl by Jackie French at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Slave Girl by Jackie French at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Slave Girl by Jackie French at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

I was soooo into Vikings as a teenager - my father had a book of Viking myths and I read it about 100 times. They have a bit of a bad reputation here though, don't they? My DH used to insinuate a Viking heritage to me as a covert insult, but I always took it as a compliment.

I think Columbus gets all the credit because the Vikings eventually lost connection with Vinland and it went un-discovered so to speak.

Jill replied:

Well, we love King Arthur to the exclusion of all else. I like him too though! I think a lot of British people prefer to see their roots as Celtic rather than Norse. A shame, because the mythological canon is incredibly alive and vital.