Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby winner of the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. And, while this award is well deserved, Icefall is so much more than a mystery - it is a coming of age story and a story within a story as well, with memories coming together to create something greater than the mystery itself. In fact, Icefall reminds me of Shannon Hale's Newbery Honor winning Princess Academy, which, while not a fantasy, has a major plot element (the valuable Linder stone seems to transport the thoughts of those who sing to it) that is not based in reality. Icefall also reminds me of Princess Academy because, like Hale's, Kirby's writing is breathtaking and beautiful at times. In fact, as I was listening to the wonderful audio version narrated by Jenna Lamia, I was struck so often by a lovely sentence or passage that I purchased the book as well. And this makes perfect sense, as Solveig, the young narrator and main character, is a born story teller. Observant of those around her and filled with sharp insights, Solveig's descriptions of the natural world are often poetic. The sky looks like a "burnt log in the morning hearth, cold, spent, and ashen," and summer, was "still new, and trailing cold mornings." Along with the voice of Solveig, Kirby does a phenomenal job with the harsh, frozen setting of the book, which is a steading, a traditional Scandinavian hall, perched beneath a looming glacier on an isolated, barren fjord. You will feel the cold of the hard ground rise up through your shoes and you will feel the suffocating weight of the icy glacier above you as you read. Only after finishing Icefall did I discover Kirby's fantastic collection of images that inspired him during the writing of the novel, which you can see here.
Set in the Viking Age, impending war finds the King sending his three children to safety high in the fjords. The King plans for their return before height of winter when the sea will freeze, leaving them landlocked and without supplies. Each attendant, from the cook to the guards to Alric, the King's skald, or story teller, has been chosen carefully by the King himself to tend to his children. Of Alric, Solveig says, "I can't help but feel nervous around him. He speaks too carefully, his words too well-chosen, and so I never know what he's really thinking." Solveig, the middle child, is without the golden haired beauty of her older sister, Asa, or the heir to the throne like her younger brother, Crown Prince Harald. She is often overlooked, but not by Alric, who notices something special in her. Soon, Alric is training Solveig in his craft, despite the displeasure this might cause the King, and it is both her way with words and the impressions quietly gathered as one who is often overlooked, that form her gift, one that ultimately allows her to save her loved ones. As winter approaches and stores run low, Berserkers sent by the King arrive and crowd the steading, creating physical and psychic tension. Mysterious footprints in the snow, sabotage of the sparse supplies and a poisoning point to a traitor amidst the supposedly loyal subjects and warriors. How Solveig comes into herself and uses her gift to alter the actions of those around her and uncover the identity of the traitor and the surprising, suspenseful climax to Icefall are deeply satisfying on many levels and the true work of a talented storyteller on the part of Kirby.
Look for my review of Kirby's newest book, coming April , 2015 -
Other books by Matthew J. Kirby:
Source: Purchased Audio Book and paberback