The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy) by Nancy Farmer

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The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy) by Nancy Farmer

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Penny Dolan
Reviewed by Penny Dolan
Summary: Nancy Farmer dramatically weaves together Norse, Celtic and Christian folk myths and legends, conjuring up an ancient northern British landscape of dangerous lands, settlements and islands to make an enjoyably complex fantasy world for young teen readers. The Islands of the Blessed concludes the trilogy begun with The Sea of Trolls and continued in The Land of the Silver Apples.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 496 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1847386304

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In this third adventure, Jack, a fourteen year old Saxon apprentice bard, and Thorgil, a bad-tempered shield maiden, follow the Bard Dragon Tongue on a quest to quell the draugr - the malevolent spirit of a drowned mermaid mistakenly summoned to Jack's village and who seeks revenge for her earlier ill treatment at human hands.

The Bard decides they must take action, so the three set sail with a crew of exuberant Northmen, a giant half-troll and a trio of lying thieves, and meet difficulties, deceptions and supernatural dangers in every settlement, kingdom or resting place they visit along the route to the land of the fin-folk.

I had not read the first two books, so The Islands of The Blessed took me a while to get into. This may be because the prickly relationship between Jack and Thorgil was new to me, or because the essential bits of back story slightly held up my engagement with the plot. Reading through for the first time, I felt the story really came to life when the hobgoblins arrived. But don't be put off as I suspect anyone reading the last book of the Northern Lights trilogy would make a similar comment. Maybe my message is: Don't start from here! Go for The Sea of Trolls first!

American author Nancy Farmer, a Newbery Award winner, has used her knowledge, study and scholarship to create a fantasy world busy with a mix of peoples, cultures and beings. Although she evokes an age when early Christian monks prayed on remote cliffs or imposed penitential rule on townships, the reader also witnesses the undead warriors of the Wild Hunt rampaging across the sky, a descendant of Sir Lancelot lazing in a castle rebuilt by fairy glamour, and many other excitements on the voyage.

Along with the main quest come a variety of creatures: the kindly hobgoblins who stole away Jack's little sister, the slaughtered ghosts wailing within castle walls, and several awkward or evil presences on land or sea. While some amuse and some frighten, the carefully woven plot propels the story onwards, so that the mood of the book continually changes. The reader never knows what - or who - will appear in the next chapter. Just occasionally, I wished that the book had been longer, so that each moment or scene did not fly past, but this murmur may actually be a recommendation of the style for readers younger than myself.

Beneath the wealth of fantasy, real contemporary issues are being raised. One theme seems to be that of personal responsibility. As the Bard explains to Jack, whatever course of action a person chooses - whether right or wrong or inevitable - it will lead to a consequence, and possibly a price to be paid, so it is useful to think first.

Another theme seemed to me to be the question of destiny and choice. Jack, the son of a grumbling Christian father and a wise woman mother, is partly estranged from his family because he has chosen to follow the Bard. Thorgil, the foster daughter of the slain viking Olaf One-Brow, has a damaged shield-arm, and is now filled with fury because she cannot fulfil her intended destiny. Many other young characters, such as Jack's little sister Hazel, or Ethne the daughter of the Bard and an Elfin mother, are working out their own way of living within various adopted worlds or cultures, and some adults help them. Some do not. I felt that Nancy Farmer was warning her readers to find their own good ways of dealing with expectations and disappointments, and reminding them that to be different can open up the world of more interesting and exciting experiences. Not only in fantasy, but also in real life.

Finally, a comment on the book cover. The clear typography of the title of The Islands of The Blessed, set in a sea blue cover, immediately interested me with its hints of ancient mythologies. Then I saw the foreground was dominated by two fantastical fin folk. Though drawn exactly as described in the text, these weird semi sci-fi creatures did not make me want to see what was inside the covers. Surely it might have been better to keep these imaginary characters within the pages and the mind rather than on the cover? Authors rarely have any control over cover designs, so I was glad that there in the background was the image of the Northmen's ship, even though they wore fictitious horned helmets, to attract in new readers. Luckily, the American covers seemed much more appealing. An interesting read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Another well recommended trilogy is Katherine Langrish's Troll series: Troll Fell, Troll Mill and Troll Blood, all published by Hodder.

Buy The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy) by Nancy Farmer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy) by Nancy Farmer at

Buy The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy) by Nancy Farmer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy) by Nancy Farmer at


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