Tag Archives: Norway

#BookReview ‘The Mercies’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave #historical

Based on a historical event, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave tells the story of a village on a remote island in 17th century Norway after a once-in-a-lifetime storm kills the village’s fishermen. Following the loss of their husbands, brothers and sons, Vardø becomes a settlement of women. At first they grieve then they struggle to survive without men, but survive they do. Eighteen months later a government official arrives to impose control on a female population at the edge of nowhere. He finds the women behaving in an unseemly manner, behaving as men, forsaking church and flirting with officially disapproved-of Sámi rituals. Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Hargrave tells the story of the women of Vardø through the viewpoints of two very different women. Maren Magnusdatter’s fiancé Dag is killed in the storm. So are her father and brother. She lives in a claustrophobic house with her elderly mother, her Sámi sister-in-law Diinna and Diinna’s son Erik. Ursula lives in Bergen with her widowed father and sister. When her father proposes a marriage match to Absalom Cornet, a Scottishman, Ursa imagines ice and darkness. She sails north with her new husband, a stranger, of whom she knows nothing.

When they arrive on the island of Vardø, Ursa is unused to the ways of the far north, the cold, the starkness of life and, used to a servant, cannot keep house or make food. Her house becomes slovenly, her thin inadequate clothes caked with mud. Maren takes pity on the newcomer and helps her prepare meat and make a coat from furs. A close friendship grows between the two women. Hargrave’s portrayal of the machinations of this small female community – the alliances, the petty jealousies, the childhood envies, the gossip, the lies – is spot-on. But while the women are watching each other, Commissioner Cornet is watching them and looking for signs of witchcraft. Maren and Ursa encourage Diinna to at least attend church, to set aside her Sámi folklore habits of stones and poppets, but Diinna will not become someone she is not. And then Ursa’s husband makes his first arrest and for the first time Ursa understands she is married to a witchfinder.

I quickly became absorbed in the story of these women and the situation in which they find themselves. It is a difficult read at the beginning, the setting is dour and the life hard, descriptions of the daily privations are depressing, but the growing relationship between the two women lies at the core of the story.

The middle section sags a little as there is a pause in the action, waiting for the witch hunting to begin. The final third is devastating.

A fascinating book about a harrowing story.

If you like this, try:-
The Witchfinder’s Sister’ by Beth Underdown
The Western Wind’ by Samantha Harvey
Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Nj via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘The Storm Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance

Lucinda RileySecond in ‘The Seven Sisters’ series of adoption identity mysteries by Lucinda Riley, The Storm Sister is the story of the second oldest d’Aplièse sister, Ally. Very different from the first novel of the series which was set in hot and steamy Brazil, this book encompasses professional yacht racing, classical music and Norway.

Like Maia’s story in The Seven Sisters, Ally’s tale starts with the death of their father Pa Salt. Ally reads his letter and ponders two clues. A small ornamental frog and a book from his library ‘by a man long dead named Jens Halvorsen’ lead her to Norway. This is an ambitious timeline, skipping back 132 years to 1875 and the fascinating story of Jens Halvorsen and Anna Landvik. What follows is a lovely tale of Anna being plucked from her mountain farm to sing the soprano’s part in the premiere of Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, ghost-singing for an actress with an inferior voice. This performance kickstarts Anna’s career, and she settles into a new life in Christiania [modern-day Oslo] and falls in love. Of course, true love never runs smoothly and Anna continues to long for the hills of her homeland rather than the city streets. The Norwegian settings are wonderful and I wanted to stay with Anna’s life, Riley invests so much in this section it almost feels like a book-within-a-book. But The Storm Sister is an adoption mystery about Ally’s parentage, so despite loving the Anna storyline I started to wonder why Riley takes us so far back in time to the nineteenth century and the story of who in terms of age are Ally’s great-great-grandparents. When is she going to tell us about Ally’s parents and her adoption by Pa Salt?

Riley excels at the immersive detail of both sailing and singing. The inclusion of Grieg’s music and the story of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ – which offers parallels of Peer with Jens – made me listen to the music. But three quarters of the way through the book, I started to lose interest. That surprised me; I haven’t felt that way with Riley’s other books. The mystery is thinly strung and additional storylines and characters added in the last quarter feel hurried and shoehorned in. I found myself worrying I’d missed something and started flicking back through the pages. It picks up again at the end of Ally’s story, finishing at a pace before the final chapter acts as a preview to the next book, the next sister’s story.

A doorstop of a book, The Storm Sister comes in at 720 pages. Darker than the first of the series, there are love affairs and betrayals, grief, tragedy and the depths of despair and cruelty. Each novel is the standalone story of one sister, but reading them order brings the cumulative benefits of understanding the six sisters who were raised together at Atlantis. Next in the series is The Shadow Sister, the story of Star.

Here’s my review of The Seven Sisters and a standalone novel by Lucinda Riley, The Love Letter.

If you like this, try:-
The Beekeeper’s Daughter’ by Santa Montefiore
Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE STORM SISTER by @lucindariley #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Rs via @SandraDanby