[library] The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer : 450/450
I loved The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm and House of the Scorpion, but I tried to read this book when it came out and I just didn’t get anywhere. Definitely went better with a decade of Norse scholar cohabitation, Marvel fandom, saga-reading and medieval history under the belt. It’s a little more mid-grade than the other two Farmer books I’ve read, but still painstakingly well researched, including the language and lots of treats with regards to mythology and history.
The story is basically that Jack is a Saxon bard-in-training, he and his little sister get abducted by Vikings, and then Jack has to run off to Jotunheim to drink from the well of awesome water at the foot of Yggdrasil to save sister Lucy from an evil half-troll queen. His main companion is a girl named Thorgil who has a bad temper and a bad past and is a tiny Berserker.
Even though Jack becomes friends with people everywhere he goes I like that Farmer doesn’t compromise on the “these are violent cultures funded on raiding and that isn’t going to change just because we like you” issue. I like all the research tidbits. I am more wary about the religious aspects, but also find them incredibly appropriate to Jack’s perspective.
It’s all a little spiritual for me, in that religion is a major theme of the book, and I tend not to read a lot of books where that is the case. On the other hand, some people who are not like me would certainly find them objectionable for the opposite reason: because the book is related by a Christian, but gives proof in the plot that pagan Norse religion is real, and ultimately concludes that all religion is real within the umbrella of the World Tree. That is pretty fabulous, and unusual.
And it’s a good illustration of how religion works in that part of the world 800-1000 C.E. My favorite part of Njal’s Saga is when a local chief decides he will adopt Christianity if and only if he can have St. Michael as his guardian angel. He’s not fussed at all about anything but which cool stuff he gets for being in which religion. IT MAKES ME SO HAPPY.
Also Thorgil is a violent little beast and learns to chill out through magic water and I don’t know if I love that or not. I mean, she’s still a warrior and all. Probably it’s good, probably it’s just like taking your damn magic meds, but I am not sure. Gender gender gender. I always want it to get pushed FARTHER than it is.
Alongside this book I recommend:
A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, for wolf-soul-bonding warrior dudes, gay muscular guy sex, really different and interesting use of the same amount of research. [TW]
Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones for more kids dealing with Norse Things, and also the best Loki ever.
Sabriel by Garth Nix for young people in snow having adventures and really good world building.
Njal’s Saga for proof that Vikings &c are really portrayed as that vulgar, violent, and chill about being killed horribly.
NOT AMERICAN GODS, BECAUSE
okay don’t expect this sentence to end friendly-like
I HATE IT. It has zombie wife and bad god name puns and that woman who eats men with her vagina and nihilism. Blah blah, six hundred pages and all I get is a chafing dissatisfaction.
That said, Njal’s Saga is not about anything particularly nice, either. It’s about a family feud and it ends badly. Lots of people die. But it’s GREAT. There are lots of politics, and people frowning and conniving and some good wives and some bad wives and some brave fellows and weaselly fellows. And it’s so matter-of-fact that it’s hard to be bothered by anything. It’s less everything is worthlessssss, however, and more, well I guess things went that way this time! GOOD OLD NJAL’S SAGA.