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Rebels and Nappy Rash!
on 28 January 2009
This very readable novel is the first in a series by best-selling Scandinavian author Margit Sandemo, whose books are being made available for the first time in English. Sandemo is the author of a hundred and seventy novels, a feat that becomes more believable when you note that, at two-hundred-and-fifty-five nicely-spaced pages, "Spellbound" is actually a bit short for a Fantasy novel. A forty-seven-book series is still an impressive achievement whatever way you look at it.
"Spellbound" introduces Silje, an orphaned teenager who has come to the big city of Trondheim seeking refuge after her family is wiped out by disease. Destitute and starving, Silje takes another orphan and a foundling under her wing, before falling in with what she believes to be a group of rebels against the absentee king.
Induced to save one of the 'rebels' from torture and execution, Silje wins the protection of their fascinating and mysterious leader. Returned to the threatening mountains--home to the Ice People of the title-- that she thought she had escaped, she begins a new life with the two children. But peace and tranquility cannot last for long, and soon Silje is driven once again to seek help from the rebels--but are they rebels? And what is their leader's secret, a secret that troubles him so much that he has sworn never to lie with a woman.
This book was a fast and enjoyable read. Silje is a whole person--a woman sensual yet chaste, vulnerable yet competent. She finds depths of strength within herself when rising to the challenges she's forced to face, while at the same time yearning to express her creative side. There are some lovely touches when her lack of domesticity is observed or commented on. She's been promised a different future in which she can express herself, but, meanwhile, the baby has nappy rash.
The sixteenth-century setting convinces at least partly because the author doesn't try too hard--she has nothing to prove. The stark ice and snow, the long wagon journey on which the baby can't be fed because his milk is frozen, and so his "screams would echo in giant caverns".
Where the book perhaps falls down is in setting out what the characters are feeling too clearly, rather than enabling the reader to make deductions based on observation. Telling us what Silje is feeling means her feelings are only shallowly felt; this deprives the book of much of the passion it's striving for. If those feelings could be evoked in the reader with something of the author's own intensity, this book would be unputdownable.
Closing off its story arc nicely, this volume of "The Legend of the Ice People" leaves plenty of threads dangling to induce the reader to try more.