Book Review – The Girl Who Died by Ragnor Jonasson (1980s’s Icelandic mystery)

Here’s the blurb:

Teacher Wanted At the Edge of the World

Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.

But Skálar isn’t just one of Iceland’s most isolated villages, it is home to less than a dozen people. Una’s only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm’s length.

As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space – the site of a local legendary haunting – drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar’s past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that’s been kept secret for generations.

I’m fascinated by Iceland’s history and that’s why I chose this book (even though it’s not strictly historical at all).I read The Girl Who Died some months ago, and it struck me as a particularly good winter read. Here’s what I had to say at the time.

The Girl Who Died toys with the reader – is it a murder mystery, a ghost story or the story of a woman before her murder? At one point, all of these seem to be possible.

I really enjoyed the story, it kept me up reading, under the covers, long into the night until I had to stop because I was a bit terrified. For a short book, it certainly packs a punch.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Girl Who Dies is released today, 10th June 2021, and is available from here.

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Book Review – The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea – historical murder mystery

Here’s the blurb;

When Rósa is betrothed to Jón Eiríksson, she is sent to a remote village. 

There she finds a man who refuses to speak of his recently deceased first wife, and villagers who view her with suspicion. 

Isolated and disturbed by her husband’s strange behaviour, her fears deepen. 

What is making the strange sounds in the attic? 

Who does the mysterious glass figure she is given represent? 

And why do the villagers talk of the coming winter darkness in hushed tones?

The Glass Woman is an intriguing tale of Iceland in the late 1600s.

I make no bones that I am fascinated by Iceland, perhaps not during this time period, but earlier, when the country was being settled. I tried this book on the off-chance – Jane Eyre in Iceland – yes, please.

And indeed, it is a dark tale, told from the viewpoint of Rosa. It is dark, frightening and claustrophobic, and reads very much like a much more modern Icelandic ghost story I read recently. It makes you shiver, it makes you feel for Rosa, but then everything changes and the book is not at all what you think it’s going to be.

I found the story intriguing and engaging, and if it’s not Jane Eyre in Iceland, it’s because the book is actually much harsher.

A wonderful story, thoroughly enthralling.

Odin’s Game – by Tom Hodkinson – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 915.

In the Orkney Isles, a young woman flees her home to save the life of her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that evil from her past is reaching out again to threaten her son.

Outlawed from his home in Iceland, Einar Unnsson is thrown on the mercy of his Uncle, the infamous Jarl Thorfinn ‘Skull Cleaver’ of Orkney. He joins forces with a Norse-Irish princess and a company of wolfskin-clad warriors to become a player in a deadly game for control of the Irish sea, where warriors are the pawns of kings and Jarls and the powerful are themselves mere game pieces on the tafl board of the Gods.

Together they embark on a quest where Einar must fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior.

As the clouds of war gather, betrayal follows betrayal and Einar realises the only person he can really trust is himself.

Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all in Odin’s game?”

Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson begins with great promise. I hope, mirroring the writing style of the sagas, the story is simply told, occasionally a little monotonous, and yet, it’s Viking Age Iceland – the promise is there, all the time, expectant that finally there is a novel about the Icelandic way of life. Unfortunately, the novel moves away from Iceland quite quickly, and in doing so, becomes a more challenging read.

The characters are two dimensional, there is some jarringly ‘modern’ dialogue in there, as well as some that is stilted, and yet all mixed with what must be a great deal of research and commitment to telling a story in a ‘different way’ to much that is written about the Viking Age – journeying to Orkney and Ireland along the way, if as so often happens, staying with the Pagan/Christian storyline.

Einar, the main character, is never fully formed enough to elicit a great deal of sympathy from the reader, and his ‘talents’ appearing from nowhere (apart from his ability to tell a good story which he has been trained to do) are supposed to be gifts from Odin, but are, again, not fully explored enough to make the novel feel ‘well-rounded and finished.’

There is a huge amount of promise contained in this novel, but it slips away, never quite grasping the storyline firmly enough, and the ending is both rushed, and ultimately, unfulfilling. A true shame. Such an engaging idea, but a struggle to read. In the end, I willed myself to the end in the hope the ending would be as good as the beginning, only to be disappointed.

The three stars are for the promise of what could be a great novel.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

(Note – I am obsessed with Viking Age Iceland – it is my passion – it is the basis of my first fantasy series – this may, potentially, account for my disappointment!)

Odin’s Game is released today (20th June 2019), and is available from here: