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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 December 2009
I read Kerstin Ekman's brilliantly tense and sensual thriller Blackwater years ago and always meant to follow up and find out what else she'd written. Well now I have, and boy is it different to what I was expecting. The Forest of Hours is a superb fantasy novel, brimming with atmosphere and sinister events. The protagonist is Skold: a troll - who becomes fascinated by humans and gradually learns enough to pass as one. It helps that he has a bottomless memory for words and languages and a sharp intelligence. Although he never entirely loses his fear of humankind, he comes to love some of them, especially the female kind. Skold can sometimes leave his body asleep and soar aloft with the crows, or scamper through the fields with the voles and mice. He is entirely without defences, except for his quick mind, and is twice captured by outlaws. Skold grows older and taller, but much more slowly than the human lifespan. Some of his escapades are surprisingly erotic, some shocking, and at one time he is enlisted as a surgeon into the Thirty-years war. Along with Skold, the reader learns quite a lot about the origins of chemistry as a discipline and about the early use of medicine in Scandinavia. But life is often brutal, if not short for Skold and this is no fairy tale.

Think: Lord of the Rings, without the portentous grandiosity, nearer to the earth, under the thunderous skies; think: freezing rain, starvation, peasant superstitions, Latin declaimed through a latrine wall; think: grubs for breakfast, a disappeared girl, a village on fire, the creation of a new, shining metal; think: a forest that stretches to the sea, hiding under a wagon in warfare, then finding your horse with her belly cut open - and finishing her off with love. Stories of wonder, privation and delight, far too many to hint at, a richness of imagination deeply embroiled in Scandinavian history and folk tale.
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on 21 January 2000
A wonderful picaresque novel following Skord, a virtually indestructible troll, down through the ages - from the darkest middle ages to the dawn of the 'Enlightenment'. Yet this is no tale of progress. While Skord finds merit in every way of life he moves through - outlaw, catamite, alchemist, doctor and Tarot reader - his heart in some way always remains with the forest. He is an extraordinary, oddly loveable character who acts as a twisted mirror in which 'humanity' appears somewhat less than loveable itself.
This is a massive and slightly unforgiving novel, which makes it far from an easy read. But for anyone whose heart is in tune with the world of nature (beautifully described throughout) or interested in the unfolding of European history (seen from the perspective of a 'minor character'), this is a treat.
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on 24 October 2001
This is one of the most absorbing books I have ever read. I would recommend it to anyone. The tale of Skord the troll/man's life, his immersion into human society throughout the Middle Ages (the book is set around our acutal history with references to the Thiry Year War and Descartes) and his thoughts on society, religion and nature is beautifully and strongly written to provoke thought as well as emotion. Although written in the third person, when the story ended I felt as though I had lost a friend.
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on 18 November 2007
I loved this. I've read it three times, and will read it again. The story is mythic - forest troll is intrigued by, and moves closer to human beings while never forgetting his northern, boreal beginnings, but the magic of this tale is in the writing. The prose is simple, clear and hauntingly beautiful. There are phrases which don't leave me, and the description relationship of the troll Skord with the horse Quinnamon made me weep. One of the most beautifully written and unflinching books I've read, and it is a peculiar delight. Not easy, despite the clarity of prose, but utterly recommended.
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on 17 June 2015
I've found this book difficult to finish. I keep on going back for more but it is a strange book - a saga (over 500 years) about a Swedish troll. I find it fascinating in some respects but in others ways it turns me right off. Skord's relationships with the humans he encounters reveal a lot of good and bad about what we call the civilised world - and that's interesting but I the 'magical' aspect I personally didn't appreciate - but that the essence of a troll.
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on 11 January 2000
This is a real treat. Ekman introduces the avatistic character of Skord, a sort of troll/forest character and his adventures as an allegory the struyggle between man and nature ain the Scandinavian forests. The firsts three or four section in particular glow with the seasons, and smells of medieval Sweden. Buy it and enjoy it.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 18 February 2013
This sounded an intriguing premise - "Skord, an engaging and mischievous magical being, finds himself in a woodland with no memory, no past and no language." How could you not want to read this book to find out what that means and what could possibly happen?

A novel that draws on the legends and myths of Sweden and Scandinavia, this book has a language both of charming naivety and of visceral earthiness. While that is of course attributable to the writer, the translator who has had to translate much that is not readily translatable into English must also be praised for her remarkable achievement. I love books that draw on the Northern mythology, which remind me of the wonderful novels of Elizabeth Boyer.

This is an intriguing book, a story wound with mystery and imagination, sprinkles of magic, and a fair dose of brutal human reality. Skord's travels take him over the course of five hundred years; the world changes, and so does Skord, but he always remains a creature outside. Definitely one to read, and think about long after you turn the last page; the humanity may leave your thoughts, but the magic never does.
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on 14 December 2014
This is just stunning, beautiful and affecting. Borrowed it from a library a few years ago and never forgot it. It weaves myth and mysticism with reality and deeply researched history into a nordic saga which has the breadth and magic of the Lord of the Rings but is more grounded in the truth and wilderness of the forest. Much more elevating, I found, than the rather depressing Blackwater. A brilliant achievement.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 February 2015
Kerstin Ekman, b. 1933, published this novel, here expertly translated by Anna Paterson, in 1998. Its Swedish title may be translated as ‘The Robbers in Skule Forest’. It is a long book and one that is dense and challenging. Ekman’s world is Skule Forest, her chronology some five centuries and her main character, Skord, is a troll, a creature of the forest.

There are other creatures in the forest, ranging from giants to slugs and snails, two of Skord’s edible delicacies but his main interest are the humans, the children who go from farm to farm begging for food, the villagers, wandering churchmen and aristocrats, robbers and criminals. However, it is the shape and shadow of the forest that dominates this sprawling book.

When we first meet him in the Middle Ages, Skord is young and is seen observing a giant who has become trapped by a falling tree. Although he can reproduce all the noises of the forest, this is his first meeting with talking beings and it is soon clear that, whilst his brain is small and ill-formed [‘Troll brains do not hold many memories. Mostly, their minds flicker and ripple like the glossy water in a forest tarn ruffled by the wind.’], he has a capacity to learn language but largely by a process of mimicry. We see him mixing with the forest waifs and, in particular, with Bodel and her brother Erker, and gradually coming to understand the strange habits of humans, their living in houses, planting and reaping, keeping fires but burning the forest, and killing animals unnecessarily.

With the help of Bodel, Skord is able to pass as a child but over the next 500 years his ageing is irregular. For some time he is seen as a boy and almost throughout his life he retains some boyish elements but by the time the book ends with the railways coming to the north of Sweden, he is exhausted by what he has experienced – his contacts with humanity have sucked the energy out of him as they have disrupted areas of the natural environment.

Although he shares, or learns to share, many human characteristics – enquiry, violence, communication – Skord is essentially an external observer of humans, exposing their corruption and the barriers they create to protect themselves from the tangible and invisible dangers of daily life. Ekman’s picaresque book takes Skorn on a philosophical journey in which religion, alchemy and mesmerism take centre stage. Not all of these are successful – the time that he spends with a medieval Magister, hearing his stories and being introduced to the concept of sex, seemed especially self-indulgent. In contrast, as a non-human he finds a particularly strong link with others who are conventionally outside society – thieves, brigands and those mentally or physically impaired.

As Skord gains insights into humans and the human condition, and takes advantage of our preference for shelter, comfort and well-being, he finds himself susceptible to the troubles of modern life, boredom and indigestion. Unsurprisingly there is a strong transcentental element running through this story and occasionally the poetry of the book is disturbed by a fervour and envangelism that some readers may find disconcerting.

In a Translator’s Note, Paterson points out that Ekman’s text is steeped in ‘words and forms of words rooted in northern Swedish dialect’. She has used a combination of Scots and Old English in her translation and a Glossary is included at the end of the book.

One has the impression that Ekman undertook an immense amount of research but then has viewed the results through a distorting lens. The result is a very spiritual book that is multifaceted and not easily understood on a single reading. As the 19th century approaches, and with it the violent force of technology and engineering, it is more difficult for the author to demonstrate the centrality of the forest and those living in it.

A unique book that is a second cousin to ‘Lord of the Rings’ but poses many more challenging questions, 7/10.
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on 19 September 2015
luved it
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