While I’m Cybilling away, I’m going to post some older reviews of gems that are worth re-visiting. This week is Matthew J. Kirby week! I have read all three of his stand alone books and, though in completely different settings, they all share a wildly imaginative world building sensibility, paired with very human stories. I love that each MJK is completely fresh and different, and that each one stands alone, but each one is also exquisitely well-observed and written. Today I’ll review Icefall (2011), and on Thursday I’ll have The Lost Kingdom (2013). Sadly, I have no notes from my reading of The Clockwork Three (2010), so no review of that, though I do remember enjoying it and noting MJK as an author to look out for. He now seems to be into writing series, which makes me a bit grumpy, but I suppose I should reserve judgement, and read The Quantum League (2014) and The Arctic Code (due out in April).
A Viking King has three children: Harald is his heir, Asa, the beautiful oldest daughter will make a great marriage, but Solveig, the plain middle daughter, does not seem to have a role. Following a dispute with a rival, the King decides to send his children, along with a handful of servants and guards to a safe settlement in the far North. They are soon joined by a group of the King’s Berserkers, ferocious and violent warriors, sent as extra protection. As the winter draws in and the sea freezes, no one can get in, but also no one can get out. And as it becomes clear that there is a traitor in the camp, the safe settlement becomes a prison.
Solveig finds her purpose as she develops her talent as a skald, or storyteller, using the power of tales of the Norse gods, like Thor and Odin, to subtly change the actions of others. Solveig’s gradual progress from feeling ignored and useless to inspirational storyteller is a wonderful achievement and the other characters are all fully developed and distinct.
Building a claustrophobic and sinister atmosphere, Kirby creates a real sense of tension and impending doom, as the situation becomes increasingly desperate and ultimately erupts into a thrilling climax.
Though readers may be drawn to the action elements of Icefall, they will also find a meditation on the strength of myths skillfully woven in.