I managed to sneak in one "fun" (unassigned) book within the last week. I'd seen an ad for Spellbound in May, in a British book newsletter, and ordered it from Book Depository based on the setting: it was described as a historical fantasy set in 16th-century Norway. It appears to be a cult classic in the Scandinavian countries (akin to Louis L'Amour's The Sacketts in the USA?) with 25+ million copies sold. The figure may refer to the whole series. Spellbound, the first of 47 volumes (ack!), marks the author's first translation into English. Tagman, the publisher, seems to be a cooperative publishing, print-on-demand outfit; I imagine other publishers would balk at introducing such a lengthy saga, especially since the first six volumes are appearing in back-to-back months during late 2008. Regardless, the production and English translation are professionally done. Sandemo has a new English website with more details.
Spellbound surprised me; I had anticipated a pleasant, light summer read, which it was, but the story was longer and more substantive than I expected. The story begins in Trondheim, a coastal town in northwestern Norway, in late autumn of 1581, and follows the adventures of Silje, a sixteen-year-old peasant girl. After losing her family to the plague, townspeople drive her out of her father's cabin and forge in order to make room for a new blacksmith. Wandering alone at night, Silje heads with dread for the large funeral pyres on the outskirts of Trondheim purely out of need for warmth. She comes across two abandoned children -- a newborn baby cast out by a frightened unwed mother, and a young girl whose mother died of plague. Feeling sorry for them both, she takes them with her on her trek. Then she meets a strange man, garbed in a wolf-skin, who convinces her to rescue a king's messenger from certain execution... but neither man is what he seems to be.
Smoothly written and plot-driven, Spellbound provides lightly sketched historical details on Reformation-era Norway, a time when the country was under Danish rule. Sandemo also sprinkles bits of local folk beliefs into her narrative. The Ice People of the title, who descend from an accursed warlock named Tengel, live in a distant mountain valley, feared by Trondheim's people. If you avoid fantasy fiction because of the woo-woo factor, don't let this aspect of the series discourage you, as it doesn't predominate. The pages turned very quickly, and the story provided constant entertainment. If you enjoy tales of adventure and romance in an unusual setting, give this one a try. I expect I'll be purchasing v.2, Witch Hunt, when it appears in August.
Per Wikipedia, each book in the series tells a separate tale. The saga will follow Silje and her descendants down through the centuries, across Scandinavia and to various corners of Europe and Asia. Sounds like fun.
I meant to post about other things here too, but I seem to have gone on longer than I intended about this book (which is typical). The rest I'll save for another, later post.