Monday, August 13, 2012

Icefall Book Review

Author: Matthew J. Kirby. Release date: 2011. Publisher: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545274241.

Annotation: After their father, the king, goes to war, the royal children, Solveig, her older sister, Asa, and her younger brother, Harald, are sent to spend the winter in safety in an isolated fortress tucked into a frozen fjord. Joined by an army of warriors and a few of their most trusted servants, Solveig and the rest of the fortress inhabitants begin to worry that their might be a traitor in their midst after several mysterious acts of sabotage occur in the frozen walls.   

Personal thoughts: When I first started this book I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to like it. As it continued, however, I grew to absolutely love the story. Solveig is easily one of my all-time favorite female protagonists in any novel I’ve read in both the adult and young adult genres. The fact that she is so endearing really made me care about what happened in the story, and I found myself cheering her on as she grew more confident in herself and in her abilities as a storyteller. I would easily be able to recommend this book to tween and teen readers who want something that completely immerses them in a different world. I would also highly recommend it to adult readers as well! I’m looking forward to seeing what Matthew J. Kirby comes up with next!

Plot summary: The second daughter and middle child of her father, the king, Solveig has never been considered by herself, or anyone else, to be special. Her older sister, Asa, is beautiful and graceful and her younger brother, the crown prince, Harald, is spunky and determined to be a powerful warrior. Solveig is plain and shy, and doesn’t really know where she fits in with the rest of her family. After her father declares war on a neighboring kingdom, Solveig, along with Asa and Harald, are sent away to spend the winter in an isolated fortress, safe from the perils of war. Along with the royal children come Per, one of the king’s most trusted warriors, and several of his men, servants Bera and her son Raudi, a good friend of Solveig’s, and Ole, a slave who was captured in battle years earlier but is now loyal to the king. The small group waits for the winter to come and the fjord to freeze over, blocking off any entrance by land or sea to their hidden fortress. Before the last ice forms, however, a ship full of berserkers, the king’s most ferocious warriors, lead by the gruff Captain Hake arrives to ensure the royal children are protected. The berserkers bring with them a skald named Alric, a man serves as the king’s chief storyteller. Solveig immediately bonds with Alric, who teaches her about the importance of stories and how they can shape the mind. As the winter trudges on, however, life in the frozen hall becomes increasingly claustrophobic. Used to the battlefield, the berserkers become restless, Solveig suspects that something is going on between Asa and Per, and several acts of sabotage threaten the lives of everyone in the fjord. Can Solveig uncover who the traitor is in their midst before it’s too late?

Review: Full of interesting characters, a rich and detailed setting, and a tense but creative plot, Icefall is a fascinating psychological fantasy novel that readers of all ages who want something that makes them think will enjoy. One of the most impressive parts of the book is how impactful Kirby’s ability to create a feeling of claustrophobia is. As the winter gets darker and colder, the reader feels just as much apprehension as Solveig does about the possibility of a traitor living in the hall. All of the novel’s characters are exceptionally well developed, particularly the very likable Solveig, and the reader finds themselves truly wondering who can be trusted and if everyone will make it through the winter alive. Although these feelings of tension abound in the novel, Kirby does an excellent job of limiting the amount of violence in the plot. The story takes place in ancient Norse times, so there is, of course, reference to battles, swordplay, etc. But parents should not be concerned about the appropriateness of the novel for tweens: everything is PG and there is very little gore. Although the novel is appropriate for younger readers, adults should not shy away from picking the book up as well. There are many layers to the plot that adults can appreciate, and the novel is, in plain terms, simply a good book. Highly recommended to fans of fantasy, mystery and stories set in ancient times.

Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 6+

Similar titles: Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire, Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, and Michael Chabon.

Themes: Norse myths, war, winter, tension, loyalty, betrayal, self-confidence.

Awards/Reviews: 2012 Edgar Award winner. Positive reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklis, and Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books.

Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:
- Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?
-     Why do you think Solveig was so attached to Hilda?
-   Do you think the berserkers were trustworthy? Why or why not?
-    If you were Solveig, would you have shared your food with Ole? Why? Do you think Solveig regretted that decision?
-   Who did you suspect was the traitor in the hall as you were reading the novel? Did your opinion change as the story progressed? Why?

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