"Iceland, AD 1000"
Freya knows that her people are doomed. Warned by the Fates of an impending disaster, she must embark on a journey to find a magnificent gold necklace, one said to possess the power to alter the course of history. Read more...
"Iceland, AD 1000"
Freya knows that her people are doomed. Warned by the Fates of an impending disaster, she must embark on a journey to find a magnificent gold necklace, one said to possess the power to alter the course of history. But even as Freya travels deep into the mountains of Iceland, the country is on the brink of war. The new world order of Christianity is threatening the old ways of Iceland's people, and tangled amidst it all are two star-crossed lovers who destiny draws them together?even as their families are determined to tear them apart
Infused with the rich history and mythology of Iceland, Betsy Tobin's sweeping novel is an epic adventure of forbidden love, lust, jealousy, faith and magical wonder set under the shadow of a smoldering volcano.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 34.
- Review Date: 2009-06-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Tobin's second novel (after Bone House) is set in Iceland, A.D. 1000, just as Christianity is taking a foothold and the volcano Hekla is growing restive. In this slick re-imagining of Norse myth, humans, dwarves, giants and gods differ superficially but suffer life's trials equally and are susceptible to love, loss, violence and even the weather. The central character, Freya, is an Aesir (a god), who is essentially human but for her ability to fly and her address: she notes that her kind “occupy the space that men create for something larger than themselves.” (In Freya's case, she occupies “the tainted realm of love.”) Among numerous subplots, Freya's story follows her quest for a powerful gold necklace, the Brisingamen, accompanied by a love-torn human teenager named Fulla. Tobin's rich understanding of the source material, backed up by deft historical touches—beds made of moss and skins, turf-roofed houses, earthenware cups—brings the narrative to life. Though women take center stage, Tobin sketches the thoughts of both male and female characters with skill. With an introspective dwarf, the god Odin and a fearsome band of giants, Tobin has this one aimed squarely at the Mists of Avalon audience, and she hits big. (Aug.)
A fantastical lesson
It’s hard, nowadays, to think of Iceland without thinking of a tiny island that tried—and failed—to be the financial hub of the whole world. But long before, this catastrophe Iceland was the origin of the eddas—epic poems of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines that make the Arthurian legends pale. The landscape of restless volcanoes, hot springs and lava fields speaks of deep passions. Tobin uses those old Norse tales, Iceland’s history and even her geography to tell a gripping story of destiny and free will in Ice Land.
The story takes place around 1000 A.D., through the eyes of Freya, a beautiful aristocrat with interesting powers—more on them later—and Fulla, an orphan who’s been raised by her stern but loving grandfather. Eventually their lives entwine and their brief association forces both women to make crucial choices about their futures.
Tobin calls her book a “love letter to Iceland” and she shows it in often uncommonly beautiful writing, as in this passage describing a volcanic eruption: “The lava overflows in a myriad of hot red fingers down the sides of Hekla’s flank, forming a web of bloody rivers against the blackened rock.” The volcano did indeed erupt around the time of the novel, and Tobin is adept at weaving the mythical and quotidian together. Freya, for example, is not only a human woman but the chief Norse goddess. She retains her falcon feather cloak, which enables her to fly, the Brisingamen, an impossibly beautiful necklace, and her cats, even though they’re not seen pulling a chariot. Her kinfolk, the Aesir, don’t live across a rainbow bridge, but on farmsteads in Iceland’s unforgiving interior. Dwarves live underground and belligerent giants live in Jotunheim, but they’re regular humans who are shorter or taller than average. Tobin also has a waspish sense of humor. Describing one of her lovers, who could transform into a boar, Freya recalls him as “exceptionally handsome, when not rooting about in the earth.”
Tobin’s characters—tough, vulnerable, foolish and wise as they are—make Ice Land a joy to read. And who knows? Maybe Iceland will take over the world economy one day.
Arlene McKanic writes from South Carolina.