I was sent this book in return for a fair and unbiased review
‘The thud of the body landing on the good chair sent the dog into hysteria.’
In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.
Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even the wretched elf has plans for the blacksmith.
As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?
What I thought
I had a false start with this book, I started reading it pretty soon after I received my copy for review and about 50-60 pages in was really struggling with it. It just wasn’t hooking me, so I put a bookmark in it and sat it on the side of my room. I then proceeded to read plenty of other books and feel guilty every time I saw it waiting to be read. I wanted to enjoy this book and I knew that I had the blog tour coming up and yet I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up. But eventually with a week to go of my the tour I decided to bite the bullet and picked it up again. Even if I didn’t enjoy it I reasoned I could finish it within two days and then would be free to read other books without any guilt.
The second time I picked it up I had a better understanding of what to expect and enjoyed it. It was the slow pace that had been one of the biggest issues, plus there are no likeable characters – Gunner is possibly the closest to likeable that exists and even then he’s an angry drunk who hates the world and purposefully makes himself difficult to sympathise with.
The pace is veeeeery slow, it’s told in the style of Icelandic epics, with plenty of tangents and took a long time for me to get used to. It’s not bad and once I got my head around just how slow the pace was I enjoyed it, but for someone who reads 75% YA which is very fast paced this really threw me for six.
There are two main threads of story. The first is in 1920, where Gunner is the main character with his drinking problem, Brynhildur trying to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland trying to ‘fix’ him and his heathen ways. He finds a man called Sigurd who has fallen and completely busted his ankle who offers him a LOT of money to let him stay.
The other thread is the story that Sigurd tells Gunner of Arnar who travels from Iceland to America where he meets Juana and persuades her to run away back to Iceland with him. Whilst Arnar and Juana’s relationship starts as a real romance the longer they stay in Iceland the more abusive Arnar gets and Juana is stuck and in no position to run away as she stole her parents money so would not be welcomed home and she doesn’t know the Icelandic language (although that changes as she forces herself to learn so she isn’t stuck at home and can talk to more than one person).
As the pace picks up in Gunner’s life and he stops spending all his time drinking and starting to mingle a bit with the village, so does the pace of Sigurd’s story. Gunner starts to step back from the alcohol a bit and becomes more and more involved with the story that Sigurd has to tell. He started off moaning about it as there was not death or anything interesting but he becomes more and more involved with the lives with Arnar and Juana and starts to care about them.
Gunner’s character development is really impressive and he does become much more likeable as the story develops (although seeing as he was almost completely unlikable to begin with that’s not a hard thing). He starts to care more about himself and his appearance as well as with the people around him; it helps that he suddenly has money as well.
I went to Iceland on Moot – World Guide & Scout Camp – a couple of years ago and completely fell in love with the place. It is almost impossible to take a bad photo as it’s just so beautiful. I was there in summer and would love to go there in Feb/March and experience the cold, plus I want to try and see the Northern Lights.
Reading this book reminded me just how beautiful it is, Gunner might not care for it and for the small moments and pleasures in life but Sigurd talks about them in his story and its what makes Juana fall in love with the place. The small moments of breath-taking beauty which the island is full of.
Why I read it
I really love Iceland, stories within a story, and mysteries. This book hit what I was looking for and I was grateful for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour.
Although I had a false start I enjoyed reading this book, I’m really glad that I picked it back up again and didn’t DNF it. The pace may be much slower than I’m used to but the writing is beautiful and the characters are all real and have many many faults. I didn’t like any of the characters but that is almost proof of just how well written the story is, I disliked them because for me their faults outweighed any good.
Did I enjoy it? Yes – but only once I understood the pacing.
Am I glad I read it? Yes
Would I read again? Maybe
Would I recommend? Not sure if I’d suggest it to everyone but I’ve definitely got at least one friend that I think should read it.
About the author
Bjørn Larssen was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine), Edurada.pl, Homiki.pl, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.
Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, worked as a graphic designer, a model, and a blacksmith. He used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.
PopSugar: Set in Scandinavia, published in 2019, about a family.
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Thanks again to Rachel for organising this blog tour and for sending me a copy of the book.
As always please let me know what you think and if my words have made you want to read it, I hope so.
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