Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review; Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic, 2011)

Recommended for ages 10-14

Reading Matthew Kirby's Icefall is like reading an old Norse tale -there is suspense, there is heroism, there are storytellers, and there is battle. The author puts the reader in the banquet hall with the characters, invites you to take a seat and listen in.

Solveig, the middle daughter of a viking king, her older sister and younger brother, are in hiding at a frozen fortress while their father fights a war at home. The king's warriors protect them, joined later by a group of berserker warriors that he sends as additional protection. Shortly after the berserkers arrive, though, things start going wrong - livestock disappears, food is poisoned, and it becomes all too clear that someone in the group is a traitor. Solveig and her siblings have to figure out how to survive the winter until the spring thaw, and Solveig works to discover who the traitor is before he - or she - destroys them all.
It is a compelling read with complex characters and a tense situation - a siege tale from within. Solveig is the middle daughter - she is plain, unlike her beautiful older sister Asa; she is not an heir, unlike her younger brother Harald; she is merely Solveig. But Solveig is smart and figures things out quickly. She strives to be a storyteller - a skald - like Alric, the skald in her father's court, but she learns that being a skald means giving your loyalty to those who may not always warrant it. Solveig finds herself angry at Asa for doing nothing during their days in captivity and she protects Harald as if he is one of her own. The story is told in Solveig's voice, interspersed with Solveig's anecdotes involving different characters from before the time of the seige, to further flesh out the players. There are layers and layers to this story; as each layer peels back, the revelations keep the reader turning the pages to discover more.

This book crosses genres - it can be considered fantasy, it can be historical fiction, or it can be mystery (it was just nominated for an Edgar award). While the main character is female, there is plenty here to pique both boys' and girls' interests: battle, complex relationships, and the frustration of family ties are only part of what this well-written tale has to offer all readers.

Matthew J. Kirby's blog, Kirbside, offers information about his books (with hyperlinked titles to bring you directly to points of interest) and contact information. The Scholastic site for Icefall allows readers to download a sample chapter.

Icefall has also been nominated for a Cybils award in Middle Grade Fantasy.

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