Top positive review
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His memory sleeps and the knife marks grow in number
on 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.