Berghs förlag, 2015.
Reviewed by Darcy Hurford in SBR 2016:2
Review Section: Children's and YA Fiction
Mention the word ‘Viking’, and most people think of a male warrior, travelling by sea, trading and waging war. Sagan om Turid takes a different approach. Not only is the main character a girl, but the novel looks at other aspects of Viking life, particularly religion, literacy and social distinctions.
It is the first part of a trilogy aimed at young adults (13+), set in a Viking village where the warriors seem to have their glory days behind them. As Turid says in the first chapter, she was born in the year her father last went off to war. He came back from the Kingdom of the Franks with great riches, but by the time this story begins, when Turid is a teenager, the kingdom – in fact merely a village – is poor, and her father is old. Although he is the king, Turid’s family lives no differently from the other villagers. They discuss whether more raiders will arrive, and her stepmother Ingeborg looks at the hall with its cracks in the wall and threadbare hangings and states that ‘there’s nothing to take any more’. Death is ever-present, whether due to the climate, crop failure, or raids on the village, and no one is safe.
Yet this is not a miserable book. Turid is a stubborn but likeable heroine. Reluctant to get married, she sneaks off regularly to the smith’s hut to learn to read and write the Romans’ alphabet. Life gets even more interesting when Holme, the old village chief, tells her that through her mother, a princess from the north (presumably Sami), she has inherited special powers to travel in the spirit world. At the same time, Ingeborg, who is the village völva, seeress, begins to teach her how to sing to and communicate with the Norse gods, so that Turid can take over her role in time.
Turid’s induction into the spirit world by Holme introduces an element of fantasy, but it never seems far-fetched or implausible. This is partly due to Östnäs’s knowledge of the subject. She has a degree in the history of religion, and the novel is clearly impeccably researched, yet wears its scholarship lightly. The glossary at the end of the book is invaluable for the reader who wonders what hnefatafl is (a kind of board game) or where Miklagård was (it was the Vikings’ name for Constantinople), but the cultural references pique the reader’s curiosity, rather than making the novel harder to read. The prose style also makes it believable. Östnäs writes in a sparse yet expressive prose which, while clearly modern Swedish, is reminiscent of the Icelandic sagas. Turid talks about elves, ‘old folk’ who live among the stones, and other Norse beliefs in a matter-of- fact way. For example, she imagines her betrothed, whom she has never met, to be ‘taller than a normal person, as broad as a giant and with a rumbling voice like Thor’s thunderbolts’.
Of course, when Turid meets her betrothed, Frode, towards the end of the novel, he does not match her imaginings at all – to her relief. The description of his home town, Hedeby, is vivid, and written with an eye to the presence of slaves – or thralls – in Viking times. Östnäs has chosen to devote a considerable amount of attention to thralls as characters, which makes Turid’s saga all the more believable.
The novel ends on a cliffhanger. It remains to be seen where Turid, now a seeress who can communicate with spirits, will go next.