Monday, 23 May 2011

The Islands of the Blessed

I'm still continuing to read for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge despite the fact that I've read my five books. It has another month or so to run and I'm hoping to at least get another couple under my belt. This latest is The Island of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer, book three in her 'Sea of Trolls' trilogy, and my book six for the challenge.

After his previous adventures as The Bard's apprentice, with Vikings, trolls, elves, hobgoblins, and much else besides, Jack is now back living in his home village. He's still having magic lessons with The Bard and is surrounded by those he has met on those adventure, Thorgil the shield maiden in particular. She's her usual prickly self and somedays the two get on, others they don't. A new family to the area are the Tanners, mother and two daughters, slyly intent on causing as much trouble as they can.

Outside the village lives Brother Aiden, a monk, living in seclusion. He has, in his care, a bell named Fair Lamenting. It gives off a beautiful sound but must never be rung. Unfortunately it is and a draugr, the dead soul of a mermaid, is drawn to it and death is hot on her heels - possibly for them all.

The Bard and Jack must work out how to get rid of this presence but their course is not straightforward. First they must visit Brother Severus, an old acquaintance, to find out how he becane entangled with this mermaid and left her to die. Then they must travel to the island where it happened and thence on to Notland, the under-water kingdom of the Fin people, who hopefully will have the answer to their problems. But the path is hazardous and Jack and his friends will have many obstacles to overcome before their quest is fulfilled.

At last I have actually finished a fantasy series! The joy of it for me has been the journey, not just the physical one but the one Jack has undertaken from that of an ordinary young boy, not much appreciated by his parents (his younger sister was always the favourite) to several years later where he's a proper apprentice to The Bard, with all that entails. At the same time he's still a boy... with simmering resentments, a tendency to be rash, and growing feelings for Thorgil which he tries to hide, even to himself.

For me, characterisation is one of the strengths of these books. Nancy Farmer reflects the way people really are, neither all good nor all bad but a mix of both. The two main characters of Jack and Thorgil are very real but I also like The Bard, the albatross, Seafarer, and the Viking crew. The author doesn't try to gloss over the historial role of the Vikings either. Yes, they are friends to Jack and his travelling companions but their way of life is violent and cruel, they trade in slaves, and Jack's feelings toward his friends are ambivilent to say the least... even Thorgil who he knows is quite happy to kill in the name of honour or even just for sport.

All that said, I did really enjoy the travelling element to this series. It takes place in the very north eastern corner of England and the Scottish borders... and stretches from there to Norway. These places are real but of course but the legends, Norse Gods and mythical beasts etc., are not... but they feel real. The area is so wild that you can easily imagine a race of trolls in the mountains, a magical race of Pictish beings in Scotland, or a whole world of people living under the sea who collect riches just to experience the envy of others.

I've no idea why this wonderful trilogy is not more well known. I love it to bits for its sheer imagination and story telling. It cries out for a follow-up trilogy but I believe Nancy Farmer has to rely on her publishers being impressed enough with sales and she said that this last instalment has been largely ignored. What a travesty! These books are beautifully written, exciting, imaginative and even educational and it's a real shame that the story might not achieve its full potential.


DesLily said...

wow, glad you finally read the last book!! I think I read them all last year for OUaT but don't quote me lol.. I did enjoy them very much. I think because I knew nothing about many of the myths or history that it covered..

(the end of Wise Man's Fear is finally in sight!!! woohoo! I will miss it but will be glad not to have to hold up 994 pages again for a bit!)

Cath said...

Pat: Same here, the myths were fairly new to me too and some of her ideas like the Fin men were really unique. Amazing sense of place too. Always wanted to go to Norway - maybe one day.

OMG, have you almost finished Wise Man's Fear????? You must have muscles like Popeye by now. You deserve a medal, sis! I honestly can't wait to hear what you think as I definitely plan to read those two books.

Jen said...

Oh, I like the sound of these books - not just the stories, but what you've said about the characterisation too. I've started Court of the Air, and I'm struggling a little with it - not hating it, but just not... that interested. And I think it's because I don't feel anything for the characters (yet - I hope!). I'll struggle on a bit longer, but I have a feeling that these books might be about something other than the people, really... and it's people I'm most interested in when I read, and how they see the world, not just the world itself, which is interesting in a different way... and my goodness I'm rambling on! /ramble!

Cath said...

Jen: Hopefully Blogger will let me post this reply. Not sure if it's still having problems...

Anyhow, yes, you're experiencing the same problems as me with Court of the Air. And if you decide to give up on it I wouldn't at all blame you. I carried on because I was so intrigued by the world building buts its faults are many I have to admit.

I think you might like this other series better. The first one is The Sea of Trolls and I'm pretty sure your library would have it.

Honestly... there are just too many books really aren't there? LOL.

Cath said...

Jen: it seems I still can't comment on your blog, though Blogger is letting me comment on others so heaven knows what's going on.

Just wanted to say I've reserved those two Victor Watson books from the library and am really looking forward to getting them.

My Gallery of Worlds said...

This sounds like a wonderful read, and series. It sounds like my kind of story. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much :D

Cath said...

Kelly: It really is a wonderful trilogy and I can't recommend it highly enough.