Title: Ice Land
Author: Betsy Tobin
Themes: family, love, fate, honor
Plot: Iceland, AD 1000.
Warned by the fates of an impending disaster, Freya embarks on a dangerous journey deep into the mountains to find a magnificent gold necklace said to have the power to alter the course of history. Meanwhile, the country is on the brink of war as the new world order of Christianity threatens the old ways of Iceland's people, and tangled amid it all are two-star crossed lovers whose 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.
My Thoughts: I picked up Ice Land recently from a bargain bin and judged it entirely on the cover: a fun and lighthearted read, I thought, and since they were playing a bit with Scandinavian myth-all the better! I admit, the cover and description didn't scream fine literature. However, once I started the book I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was both a fun and well-written book. The only issue I took with Tobin's novel were the segues. I found the geological transitions that divided up the book to be off-putting and tedious. Although I appreciate that Tobin tried to make them sound majestic and supernatural, I found that I have taken geology classes recently and didn't care for tectonic plate discussions in the novel.
With those tiny criticisms aside, I just want to say that I enjoyed Ice Land immensely. Myth and "reality" are wed seamlessly and apparently effortlessly. Tobin has mastered world-building. While I started off the book rather disliking Freya, one of the main characters, I found I respected and appreciated her by the novel's end. Each individual within the book, even minor characters, had well defined personalities and clear voices. The environment, turbulent medieval Iceland preceding a huge volcanic eruption, was simply real, beautiful, and dangerous all at once.
Ice Land has a few story-lines and motivations driving the plot along, but I found myself most interested in the story of Freya and her (mis-)adventures both among men and gods. I found that Freya was a well-written character, despite the fact that she isn't always right or likable.
What I most appreciated about Tobin's writing, especially when writing historical female characters, is that they are not blatantly modern women plopped into medieval Iceland. While I am no expert in Icelandic culture and gender roles of the year 1000 AD, I do know that I cannot stand reading historical fiction where female characters extol the virtues of modern feminism. I understand that desires for equality most likely existed, at least among sections of pre-modern communities, but hearing a 12th century maidservant preach Dworkin-esque principles is not only jarring, it is also blatantly historically inaccurate and highly unlikely. Rant aside, I really enjoyed this book.
Recommendation: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction, myth, or love stories-although I think it would also appeal to those looking for action/adventure type stories as well.
Similar Reads: The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, by Juliet Marillier, Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Tobin, Betsy. Ice Land. New York: Plume, 2008.