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May 22, 2012
Read this YA Book If…
Icefall: The Power of Our Stories
by Erin Cowles

Mythology fascinates me. I thrill hearing a story and knowing that a thousand years ago, a storyteller captivated an audience with his own version of the same tale. The ancient storytellers' words were filled with power; the tales could not have survived the centuries if they had not stayed relevant to the listeners. They offered strength, hope, and identity during difficult times. They reaffirm my belief in why stories matter and the ways they nudge the world.

Matthew J. Kirby understands the power of myths. Icefall is a lot of things: mystery, snapshot of Viking royal life, and coming of age story. But at its core, it is a celebration of the power of the stories we tell.

While her father defends his Nordic kingdom, Solveig and her royal siblings have been sent to wait out the winter in a small fortress surrounded by unforgiving mountains, a glacier, and a frozen fjord. They are accompanied by their father's most trusted warriors, servants, and skald (storyteller). Although this was a move to protect them, they soon learn there is a traitor in their midst, and they are sealed in together with no means of escape until the thaw comes, and no way of knowing whom to trust.

Solveig is not beautiful like her sister. She's not the adored heir like her brother. When she arrives at the fortress, she feels she doesn't have a place in her father's kingdom, his esteem, or any worthy characteristics at all. But this changes as she comes to know and love those sealed in the fortress. In particular, the skald takes Solveig under his wing and teaches her his craft. She learns that although she doesn't have beauty or strength, her words do. Through the stories she tells, she can give a reason for human suffering, hope in the face of defeat, unity when a community begins to fall apart, and courage against all odds. And as she gains confidence, she learns to see her own gifts and virtues, and she uses them to save those she loves.

I loved the atmosphere Kirby creates. His prose is beautiful, yet it suits the icy harshness of their surroundings. Being trapped by birth circumstances is a major theme of this novel, and setting the novel in a trapped fortress set the perfect tone as the characters push against their set roles.

Be warned that although the cover makes this look like an adventure book, it is more of an historical mystery. There are some great adventure scenes towards the end, but most of the book leans towards the psychological, and its pace is slower than most adventure tales. That said, I couldn't put this book down. It has warmth amidst ice, beauty amidst desolation, and courage in all the ways that matter.

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Target audience: Ages 8-14.

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