Thanks to Penguin UK and Netgalley for the Advance Review Copy.
This novel tells its story from the viewpoints of Rosa and Jon, a husband and wife in 1600s Iceland. Rose is Jon’s second wife as his first wife died in mysterious circumstances prior to the events of the novel. The story takes place in small Icelandic communities and the author does a great job of capturing the wildness and brutality of the landscape and its people. This is a tumultuous period of Icelandic history and the author covers some of the events including witch hunts, natural disasters and the tensions between traditional beliefs and Christianity. The community in which the protagonists live is one fuelled by gossip, suspicion and jealousy.
There is a real air of mystery running throughout the novel and the reader is kept guessing right through to its conclusion. Is it a ghost story? A folk tale? One of the Sagas? As I started reading it almost felt like I was perhaps reading an adaptation of Bluebeard with similar themes of a new wife whose husband has a dark secret. I really enjoyed getting lost in the mystery and finding out just what the secret was.
The writing is evocative and there’s a real sense of place which helps to bring the story to life. The realities of being a powerless woman removed from all she has ever known and having to adapt to new and difficult conditions is portrayed effectively and Rosa’s isolation and fear is palpable. Jon is perhaps more of an enigma, but we get a better grasp of who he is towards the end of the novel as the mystery unfolds.
Things perhaps get a little bit lost towards and the later part of the novel could have been tightened up a little, but overall a fantastic novel with surprising relevance to modern times and the experiences of both men and women and the human experiences we suffer. The cover is lovely too and fits well with the atmosphere of the novel.