Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Ice People have landed

Sandemo, Margit. Spellbound: The Legend of the Ice People, v.1. Trans. Gregory Herring and Angela Cook. London: Tagman, June 2008. 255pp. £7.00, trade pb, 978-1-903571-75-0. (Originally published in 1982 in Swedish.)

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.


  1. I've read some of them when I lived in Sweden. An entertaining romp through history, for sure.

  2. Gabriele, I'd guessed you might be familiar with the series, among everyone who reads the blog!

    Can't say I can think of any other English-language novels about that place and time.

  3. Hmmm - sounds interesting. Though i admit, the thought of starting a 47 book series is a tad daunting! But the setting does sound very cool, and different. Different is good :)

  4. Yes, I agree with that motto!

    Some of what I've read leads me to believe that some of the novels can stand alone. But v.2 appears to pick up right where v.1 left off.

  5. This sounds well worth reading - many thanks for the review.

  6. Anonymous5:39 PM

    This is the book that earned me a scolding by mother when she found me reading it.I was 13 but I hadnt gotten as far as to the sex-scenes yet in the book.

    Now I wonder why the librarians let me borrow it...

  7. When I first started reading, the style/subject did seem geared to young adults, so if I hadn't read the back cover blurb that described her narratives as "passionate, earthy, often erotic," I wouldn't have been expecting any sex scenes.

  8. Excellent review! I don't usually love fanacy, but I love historical fiction! I'm taking your advise and adding this to Mt. TBR.

  9. Anonymous6:51 PM

    well in Sweden (where i live) they were considered quite risqué.My grandmother had whole stacks of the series in her wardrobe.^^

  10. Oh yes, I agree! What I meant is that the first half of the book, as I remember, was pretty tame. But things get quite a bit spicier the more you read...

  11. And thanks, Teddy! If you buy a copy I hope you enjoy reading it.

  12. Anonymous9:11 AM

    Very nice review!
    I'm so glad people outside scandinavia/europe finally get a chance to read these books! I'm getting them all in english myself, even though I've read them 4 times in Norwegian ;)
    The ammount of books sounds daunting indeed, but trust me the pages turn faster than any other books out there. Keep reading and I guarrantee you you will laugh, cry, love and live with the Ice People :)

    Hope you'll review Witch hunt soon. I've just finished it (again) :)

  13. Thank you, prawus, and your note reminded me that I hadn't yet ordered Witch-Hunt, and it should be out in English now. Reading the series four times through is impressive!

  14. Anonymous12:56 PM

    Reading "The Ice People" 4 times is actually quite normal. (ok it's above average, but still not rare)
    Once you've finished nr. 47 you start missing the characters and the world they live in and only want to go back.
    Witch Hunt is indeed out now, and book nr. 3 is out in a few days as well. Just ordered it now :)
    I think I learned more of european history from these books than from school.
    Could be because I spent more time reading them than the school books of course.

  15. I agree with you there - I absorbed more history from historical novels than I did in school! I very rarely read books all the way through more than once, but sometimes I skim :)

    It is especially nice to see this series available in English.