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Icefall

Review

Icefall

Solveig, the Viking king’s daughter, and her two siblings --- beautiful, older Asa, and younger, future king Harald --- have been sent to winter next to a glacier where the water will freeze over, and no one will be able to get to them. Each day, the fjord grows narrower and narrower, and as their meager supplies run out, they wait for someone to come. When a ship finally does appear in the narrow fjord, it’s not who they expect. It’s a ship full of Berserkers: violent warriors who are untamed and unpredictable. They’ve been sent to protect the king’s children as he wages war against his enemies.

At first, life settles into a routine. Bera, the housemaid, provides all the meals. Hake, the captain of the Berserkers, keeps his men in check. Asa, Solveig and Harald mostly keep to themselves, although Harald is fiercely guarded. Asa effortlessly attracts the attention of the men, and plain Solveig is ignored by most everyone around her. She does, however, become friends with Alric, the skald and storyteller of the ancient Norse legends. Under his guidance, Solveig begins to learn how powerful stories can be and how to use them to her advantage. In fact, Solveig is such a natural at being a skald that she decides she wants to pursue it as a future. If only her father would approve.

As the winter rages on, a few small events change everything. The cows, which provided much-needed milk and cheese, are found dead in the pasture after someone let them out. Then a slow-acting poison makes its way into the food and kills many of the Berserkers, thereby weakening the guard. Everyone suspects everyone of being a traitor, and Solveig has nightmares about wolves terrorizing the camp and buildings burning. The only thing that brings peace to the small camp is the stories of the Norse gods told by Alric and Solveig in the evening.

When the ice around the fjord finally breaks, a small messenger ship brings news that Solveig’s father has been victorious and his enemy has gone into hiding. This brings joy to the camp, and as they make haste to leave and return home, treachery strikes. Their father’s enemy, Gunnlaug, sails into camp and immediately everything is cast into chaos. Asa, Solveig and Harald try to hide and escape. Hake and the small number of Berserkers try and fight back. The traitor is revealed, and the power of Solveig’s storytelling may be the only thing that can save them.

The Vikings are a superstitious bunch who believe in the old legends and adhere to the power of stories. Matthew Kirby does an excellent job of weaving these stories throughout the novel. Readers will recognize the legends of Thor and Odin, but will also learn a thing or two along the way. The book also shows how stories have the ability to transform an individual, in this case Solveig, from a confused, downtrodden child to a confident, full-fledged adult certain of the future. Ultimately, ICEFALL shares the importance of never underestimating the place and power of stories.

Reviewed by Benjamin Boche on October 1, 2011

Icefall
by Matthew J. Kirby

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2011
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545274249
  • ISBN-13: 9780545274241