Wednesday, 28 March 2012

West of the Moon

West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish is my first read for Carl's Once Upon a Time VI challenge. I saw it reviewed on another blog some months ago, apologies for not being able to remember whose, but I was immediately attracted by its Viking background and ordered it out of curiosity. West of the Moon is actually three books in one. The author wrote three shorter books, Troll Fell, Troll Mill and Troll Blood and West of the Moon is an amalgamation of these three books.

Peer Ulfsson is now alone in the world after his boat building father died, when an injury turned septic. The boy hopes to be taken in by kind villager friends but instead his Uncle Baldur - a stranger to him - comes to collect him. The man is huge and clearly oafish. He takes Peer away but Peer hopes that the other brother - Grimm - will be a little better. Of course... he is much worse. The two brothers are monsters and treat Peer as a slave. All the boy has to comfort him is his dog, Loki. Eventually he makes friends with a farming family who live on Troll Fell and meets Hilde, a girl of his own age. Her family make his life worth living... until Peer gets wind of a plot his uncles have to sell him to the trolls on Troll Fell. Things go from bad to worse when Peer discovers they also want a girl...

Three year after the events of part one, Peer is returning from a fishing expedition with his friend, Bjorn. He is now living with Hilde and her family on the farm. As he heads into the village with the catch, Bjorn's wife, Kersten, rushes at him, thrusts her new baby into his arms... and runs into the sea. A frantic search ensues but Kersten is not found. It seems there is some mystery about how Bjorn came to meet Kersten and it could involve seals. Meanwhile, Peer decides it's time to renovate the old mill that belonged to his uncles and is now his. But things are not straightforward. There's 'Granny' in the millpond, lubbers in the privy, and it seems the mill might be haunted as it's working at night with no one there. Added to all this, Peer finds himself attracted to Hilde but Hilde makes it quite clear that she thinks of Peer as a brother. Could Peer possibly have any more problems? Well, yes...

Part three takes place almost straight after part two. Visitors arrive at the village in a Viking ship. The captain is Gunnar and his son, Harald, a headstrong, confident character, immediately takes to bullying Peer. Gunnar has a new wife with him, Astrid. She suggests to Hilde that she would love her company on the ship's impending trip across the Atlantic to Vinland (present-day Canada). Hilde of course wants to go but her parents are horrified. Peer, in a rash moment, offers to accompany Hilde to keep her safe. Reluctantly, Hilde's parents agree. The voyage is long and hazardous and Peer is the constant victim of Harald's spite, but gains the respect of the rest of the crew quite quickly. But Astrid is not all she seems and Hilde begins to regret her decision to go on the voyage. Both Hilde and Peer regret it even more when they arrive in Vinland and make some horrifying discoveries. Will they ever see Norway again?

Sometimes when you've just finished a really good book all you feel like saying is, 'This was wonderful, READ it!' And this is one of those occasions. This YA fantasy was sheer joy from start to finish. Originally the attraction was 'Norway'. It's a country I've always wanted to visit but never have, so anything set there immediately acts like a magnet for me. But this book is much more than a Norwegian travelogue. It's peopled with characters both good, bad and also somewhat ambivilent. Just like real life really. It's a coming of age story for Peer, the main character, and not only concerns his struggles with whatever is going on in his life, but also his more private struggles with his feelings for Hilde... his guilt at feelings he has for a girl who is more like his sister than a potential mate.

The author has also filled the book with more mythical creatures than you can shake a stick at. Trolls a plenty of course, but also ghosts, Granny in the millpond... the lubbers in the loo are funny but dangerous, and then there's the Nis who cleans the house and befriends Peer. In book three the creatures are more Native American than Norse, but no less dangerous.

Part three in Vinland was definitely my favourite section. It's a real travelling adventure and turns very interesting indeed when native American tribes enter the equation. The author has done her research and this part is very realistic in content and for someone with a fascination for North America like myself, utterly fascinating.

It's not often that I don't want a book to end. As rare as hen's teeth in fact. But I could happily have read on and on and on about Peer and Hilde and was very sad to reach the end. I'm assuming there won't be any more... no mention of it anywhere so I'm not hopeful. Never mind. I can always read this one again - and very definitely will. A good start to the Once Upon a Time VI challenge.


Val + the Girls- BK +CK said...

Lovely review...gosh darn it the list grows :0)

I've been watching Game of Thrones so my appetite for something grand and Mythical is well whetted :0)

Kailana said...

I read Langrish for the first time last year and enjoyed her. I have this on my list to read one of these days, so I am glad you liked it!

DesLily said...

ok.. well now... this does sound good! another book hits the wish list LOL...but only if it's a trade paperback or hardback..sheesh. the wish list is meant to grow thankfully lol.. I have more than enough to read for right now lol.. glad this first read was such a good one sis!!

Penny said...

An absorbing review, Cath, and a trilogy I will put on my list.

fiction-books said...

Hi Cath,

What a great review, you made this sound like such a fun read, that even though I am not a fan of the genre ... never say never!

You clearly enjoyed this one, which is great for the first book of any challenge.


Cath said...

Val: I haven't seen Game of Thrones... I think I'd rather read the books first and for some reason I've just never got around to them.

Kelly: Perhaps it was your blog I saw the author mentioned. She's certainly a very good writer. I have another book of hers, Dark Angels, on reserve at the library.

Pat: It was great to start the challenge with such a good read. Doesn't always happen.

Penny: It's a book that appeals to both children and adults and ought to be more well known.

Yvonne: I think it helps when your first book for a challenge is so good. It spurs you on. I've now gone back to crime though and am reading my first Charlie Parker book by John Connolly.

Susan said...

Hmm, I read the first one two years ago and didn't rave about it....everyone does love it though. I guess I was put off by how one dimensional the uncles were.....I did love the ghosts and the trolls, that was very well done. I will give the second book a try when I come across it. And her new one over here does sound good :-) I also love her blog! lol I'm delighted you enjoyed it so much, Cath. It's like me with my first read, I really enjoyed A Great and Terrible Beauty (just about to do my post now).

jenclair said...

I've read and enjoyed these. Read the first two in individual formats, and the third in West Of the Moon.

Lynn said...

Ha, I'm so glad I read your post. I also read about this book a while ago and really liked the sound of it - eek, forgot to make a note of it though so my tiny brain seems to have forgotten all about it.
Thanks for the review - note to self - write the name of the book and autor down!
Lynn :D

Cath said...

Susan: You're right about the brothers but I tend to allow a first book a bit of slack so, it didn't bother me too much. I actually think it helped to read all three books in one volume as I was able to easily see the progress the writer had made and how much better her writing got. Very quickly, imo. Book 3 was a real gem. I'm not sure what her latest book is over there is but I have Dark Angels, which was written after the troll books, waiting for me at the library. I gather it involves underground tunnels, so I'm a happy bunny. :-D

Hope you're starting to feel a bit better!

Jenclair: They're pretty good aren't they? Definitely keepers.

Lynn: I do the same thing all the time. Glad I helped to remind you.

Buried In Print said...

I've got this one on my list, but was only interested in kind of a vague way (there are just so many retellings that look good); however, when someone says "sheer joy", that makes me sit up a little straighter. I enjoyed reading your response to the book and appreciate the nudge in its direction!

Cath said...

Buried in Print: The trouble is there are just so many possibilities for this challenge, aren't there? Huge, huge lists of great books. I went and looked at yours and saw quite a few to add to my mental list. I hadn't considered a reread of Grass for instance, what a good excuse to indulge in that one again! LOL.

Of course the obvious thing to say is that what one person loves, another may not be that impressed by. I thought West of the Moon was delightful but then it pressed quite a lot of my buttons such as 'Norway', 'early US travel' and 'sea voyages'. Include all of those in one book and I will cleave the book to my bosom or... as Deslily would say... 'you'll have to prise the book out of my cold, dead hands'.