Wednesday, July 24, 2013
ICEFALL, by Matthew J. Kirby
I heard of this a few years back when it came out, and added it to my "eventually" list. One of the big selling points for me was Jessica Day George's ringing endorsement of it on Goodreads.
It's a story set in a Viking backdrop, and as George has Scandinavian heritage, she's very picky about reading those kinds of books in MG and YA circles because they often depict Vikings as nose-picking brutes. There is more to their heritage than that and she's frustrated with the stereotype, but Kirby took the high road and wrote a much better book.
Judging by the cover you'd think it's a fantasy tale, but it's not. That's a character swinging a giant warhammer into a glacier to free a lake. You'll see why at the end of the book.
What you really need to know is that it's a tale of intrigue, more on par with THE FALSE PRINCE than anything else--and that's about as high of praise as I can give to a middle-grade novel, because THE FALSE PRINCE sets a dang high bar.
The focal character is a girl named Solveig. Her father is the king, but she's kind of the forgotten/in-between child. Her older sister is the really pretty one, and her younger brother is the only boy, so she's sort of just a placeholder. As such she decides to become a skald (I think I'm spelling that right--I listened to it on audio so I don't know the spelling of all the Nordic words), which is the Viking equivalent of a bard or storyteller.
Solveig and her siblings are sent to a steaden, which is like an ice fortress next to a glacier in a fjord. The sea will freeze and keep them safe inside for the winter while their father goes to war with a neighboring kingdom. Why? Because her father promised Solveig's sister's hand in marriage to the king, then decided not to go through with it, and he needs to keep the kids safe while he dukes it out with the guy next door.
Only there's a problem: someone inside the ice fortress is a traitor. Bad things start happening--food goes to waste, soldiers are poisoned, and Solveig doesn't know who to trust.
And all that only gets you to the middle of the book.
ICEFALL is a very rich story, striking all the right notes and giving each character a great arc to follow. There's no magic, no non-human races, just an awesome story set against a Viking backdrop. I am glad I read it. I might even pick up a print copy for my personal library.
Give it a shot.