Have you ever postponed reading a book because you thought you knew what it was about and you were just certain you weren’t interested? I have on a few occasions. I had this experience with Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, but in the end I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. It is a fantastic story!
Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.
Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?
Seriously, this book was a huge surprise to me. I have no idea why I thought this wouldn’t appeal to me…maybe it was the cover? Not sure. But honestly, why didn’t anyone tell me how awesome of a book this is?!?!
First of all Icefall reminded me of a fairy tale. Yes, it has some magical elements to it, but I think it felt fairy tale-like to me because I have almost no knowledge of the Nordic setting or culture. Medieval Nordic culture is so far from anything I’m familiar with that it just felt like it was laced with magic. It was so interesting to see glimpses of the daily life in a winter hall like the class structure, the story telling, even down to the wild behavior of the Viking Berserkers. I think the mix of learning about a different culture and Kirby’s amazing story telling skills worked together to make this book completely engrossing. I only put it down because I actually had life responsibilities (like work haha).
The King’s middle daughter, Solveig, is our unlikely heroine and Icefall is her coming-of-age story. In the beginning, Solveig is haunted by her father’s disregard for her. She is not her beautiful sister, or her “future king” little brother. Solveig believes that she is of no true importance and craves her father’s approval and attention. But as she is caught up in the midst of an atmosphere of danger, distrust, and treachery Solveig begins to come into her own and even realizes that she has gifts and strengths that are, in fact, important. She is a character painted beautifully and with much detail.
Additionally, Kirby’s entire cast of characters are so multifaceted that anyone can be the traitor and the reader really is left to discover the truth as Solveig does. The complexity of the characters is impressive as we learn, like Solvieg that even those who commit the worst of crimes have real motives and real strengths and real faults. Not every thing or everyone is painted black and white and Solveig learns to see the gray areas, as in any quality coming-of-age story. Ahhh! I want to give examples here but can’t because I’d give so much away!
Please don’t make the mistake of passing this book over, like I almost did. It is a well told middle grades historical mystery that anyone who enjoying a well crafted story will enjoy. Also, listening to the audiobook is a great choice that I highly recommend, as the narrator’s voice is so lyrical and only adds to Icefall’s themes of storytelling.
Author: Matthew J. Kirby
Publisher: Scholastic Audio (October 1, 2011)
Length: 9 hours and 18 minutes
Narrator(s): Jenna Lamia (she is awesome)
Buy the Book: Icefall