Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Icefall – Matthew J. Kirby

© 2011, Scholastic, New York

Last year I discovered a brilliant new writer—Matthew J.Kirby—by virtue of our school’s “Book Fair.” His first book—The ClockworkThree—was filled with signs of a master wordsmith. Buildings and forests came to life. There was magic in the words—from beginning to end. The result of that read was two-fold: I am in the process of reading The Clockwork Three in pieces to my children as part of their bed-time routine (it takes awhile because we’re only good for about five pages at a time); and I couldn’t resist getting his second book (which I also found at a school book fair).

Icefall mixes myth and legend with period adventure and coming of age. It is the story of Solveig told in her own words. She is the second daughter of a Norse chieftan/king, sent with her older sister and younger brother to a safe haven while her father wages war against a would-be suitor for her sister, Asa. The story begins slowly but builds as you read—you will need to allow three or for chapters to get into the story—and the window into the world of old Norse legend is priceless.

We encounter berserkers, the elite fighting force of the king. Men who have learned to call upon the beast within for power during battle have been sent to protect the small band made up of the king’s children, their guards and the servants who attend them. The berserkers arrive with Alric the skald (story-teller) just as winter arrives at their fjord.

As you read you will hear tales of Odin and Thor and Fenric (the Wolf). You will get caught up in the intrigue, the battles, and the stories of treachery. All the while you will laugh with Solveig, cry with her, hurt with her, tremble with her as she develops her skill as a skald in her own right.

One of the drawbacks to the book is the story that is inserted between most of the first chapters—meant to provide some of the characterization and aid the plot development, these little one- and two-page breaks do more to distract the reader than to further the story (it is my opinion that the book would read actually better without them). Another tactical error on the part of the author is the choice of first person active voice. He is consistent throughout the book, and the first person telling is good. However, the present active voice takes some getting used to.

Once you have mastered the voice of the story, you will be caught up, though—so get this book—buy it, borrow it, don’t steal it—and read it. I give the author three and three-quarters stars for a grand story with some issues (mostly at the beginning—by the end of the story you won’t want to put it down) in the telling.

—Benjamin Potter, January 24, 2012

[Just another note, in case you think Kirby is not worth reading (because I think he is): Icefall has received nomination for both the Edgar for best juvenile fiction and the Cybil for best Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy. I think we'll be looking forward to much more from Mr. Kirby!]

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

I enjoyed this one lots too! I'm very curious to see if it will win the Edgar Award.

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