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Max Davine is the author of six novels and holds a Master of Writing and Literature. His most recent book, Mighty Mary, received a Gold Global eBook Award and an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival. He studied at the Melbourne Actor’s Lab and has also written for the stage and screen. He currently lives in Melbourne where he volunteers at the Fire Brigade and Coast Guard.

SPIRITS OF THE ICE FOREST Cover
HISTORICAL FICTION

SPIRITS OF THE ICE FOREST

BY • POSTED ON April 30, 2021

North American Indigenous people clash with Vikings in this historical drama.

In the 10th century, Straumfjord is a Norse settlement in Vinland, founded by Icelandic explorer Lief Eiriksson. The Norse chieftains, who battle over newly settled territories in the area, such as Markland, must also contend with the skraelingjar, or savages, their term for Indigenous people. The latter live lives in harmony with the seasons, and they remain wary of the “Pale Ones,” who enslave people. When Indigenous teenager Madawaak sees the settlers slaughtering each other, he reports back to Oonban, his tribal elder. (Madawaak is in love with the man’s teenage daughter, Demasduit, who likes to hunt, which isn’t a traditional activity for women in her culture.) Oonban and the other village elders realize that upheaval is imminent and that a confrontation may be inevitable due to the Pale Ones’ growing presence on the coast. A raid on Straumfjord nearly succeeds before Freydis Eiriksdottir, Lief’s half sister, returns from exile. She’d been banished from Vinland after murdering women and children against explicit orders. Now she wants Vinland to launch a new Norse empire, safe from the encroaching cultures of Europe. Although she’s unpopular among the settlers, Freydis wins Gunnlogi, her brother’s sword, through trial by combat. She promises to eliminate or enslave the skraelingjar, but after Mooaumook, one of the Indigenous people, is captured, Freydis makes him a promise instead. Eventually, Oonban believes that he must marry Demasduit off to his people’s longtime enemies, the Farther People, in order to create a pact against the Pale Ones. Soon, the strong-willed Demasduit’s fate becomes entwined with Freydis’.

Davine channels a tremendous amount of research into this drama about a pivotal era in North American history. Vinland itself becomes a vivid presence in the story due to lines such as “The Broken Lands...got their name because of the way the ocean jutted into them. Cut deep swathes of churning brine into the open grassy plains and craggy hilltops.” There are also moments of culture shock that will fascinate readers, as when Mooaumook wonders of the Pale Ones’ horses, “How does one tame a nonhuman being?” The stories of Demasduit, Mooaumook, and Madawaak provide the emotional center of the narrative, but over the course of the novel, Davine’s character arcs lean toward darkness, denying many people safe endings, except in cases in which it’s least expected; in this, the author courts George R.R. Martin's audience, as the violence—and the pervasive bleakness—will strongly remind readers of A Game of Thrones (1996). There are scenes that depict rape and molten steel poured down someone’s throat as well as battles in which “Giant axes…cleaved [people] down their shoulders and split their necks or their chests.” Detailed gore isn’t out of place in a war novel, but the gratuitous descriptions become fatiguing, and what begins as an adventure ends up creaking under the weight of a grim realism. Still, Davine’s work is often effective, although he rakes readers over the coals for the denouement.

A well-crafted, if exceptionally violent, tale of conflict.

Pub Date: April 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64-786448-4

Page count: 470pp

Publisher: Tamarind Hill Press

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2021

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