Jocelyn Koehler's Reviews > Icefall

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
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Apr 18, 12

bookshelves: points-north

I read the YA historical novel Icefall, by Matthew J Kirby, several months ago. It was probably the last galley I wrote a blurb for when I worked at the bookstore. So that’s a sadness. On the other hand, it’s a happiness that my last blurb was for a book I enjoyed so much.

Icefall is well-conceived suspense story that also happens to be a historical novel...with vikings. Somewhere in medieval Scandinavia, a king's children – Solveig, Asa, and Harald – are sent to a remote outpost, accompanied by a small band of warriors, where they'll be safe from the coming war. But soon they discover that a traitor has infiltrated the encampment, which the northern winter has turned into a prison. Supplies run low, people begin to die, and Solveig (the middle daughter) must find out who the traitor is before everyone falls victim.

The setting of the novel is realistic but moody, perfect for the night-bound scenes that comprise most of the story. A great, frozen mountain looms over the outpost as a visible reminder of the tenuousness of life. The claustrophobic world of the outpost is made worse by the unstable nature of the people who inhabit it. Berserker warriors always a breath away from snapping, teenagers with shifting emotions and hidden loyalties, and servants with too many masters – every single character is a potential villain. Solveig herself is complex and fallible, uncertain of her place in the world. She begins to find her way through the help of a skald, who teaches her the trade of storytelling. But as she discovers how to see and tell stories, can she learn how to see the truth before she and everyone she loves is killed?

This was a menacing, deep, and ultimately rich story that kept me up well past my bedtime. Icefall was my favorite YA novel of 2011, and anyone who likes mysteries, this time period, or long, cold winters thick with horror should check it out.
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