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Ishavspirater Frida Nilsson, Ishavspirater (Pirates of the Ice Sea)

Natur & Kultur,  2015.

Reviewed by Fiona Graham in SBR 2016:2

Review Section: Children's and YA Fiction

Illustrations by Alexander Jansson

Ten-year-old Siri and her little sister Miki live with their elderly father on an island in an Arctic archipelago. One day, while they are out gathering snowberries on a nearby islet, Miki is abducted by Captain Whitehead, notorious pirate captain of the Snow Raven. It is rumoured that the children he steals are enslaved in a diamond mine. Anxious to prevent her ailing father from risking his life to find Miki, Siri finds work on the Pole Star, whose itinerary takes in the island near the pirates’ lair. She is befriended by the kindly cook, red-haired Fredrik, who also lost a sister to Whitehead as a child. Their plan to search for the pirates’ hide-out together is foiled when the captain dumps Siri in the inhospitable Wolf Islands.

After saving the life of Nanni the wolf huntress, Siri stows away on a boat with two failed hunters who have decided to throw in their lot with Whitehead. Cast overboard, she washes up on an uninhabited island together with a mermaid’s baby, whom she cares for until his mother returns to claim him. When the sea freezes over, she decides to venture out in search of human life, and ends up being rescued by a young boy out on the ice. After some weeks recovering, she meets the former captain of the Pole Star, who tells her that he and Fredrik are the sole surviving crew members. Siri finds Fredrik fending for himself in the wilds, and the two set off across the ice to Whitehead’s island.

While the pair are reconnoitring the pirates’ hideaway, Fredrik is captured and clapped in irons in the hold of the Snow Raven. Siri,trying to rescue Fredrik, is seized and taken to Whitehead’s mine, where she is reunited with a terrified, exhausted Miki. She discovers the secrets of Captain Whitehead and his adoptive daughter, Duva, once as red- haired as Fredrik. Now the fates of Fredrik, Duva and the enslaved children depend on Siri – with a little help from Whitehead’s cruelly abused, ravening wolf.

This is a classic children’s adventure book which pits good against evil, with the valiant Siri triumphing over all odds. She is a thoroughly likeable young heroine, resourceful, brave and loving. The relationship between older and younger sister is touchingly drawn, as is Siri’s and Fredrik’s comradely friendship. Siri’s voyage of discovery reveals the perfidy of much of the adult world: the hunters who become rich from the sale of wolves’ pelts, the treacherous sailors who are prepared to throw her overboard, the villainous Whitehead who works children to death in his search for diamonds. But this is no black-and-white morality tale. Siri also muses on how harsh conditions harden people like Duva, Fredrik’s abducted sister, and discovers that if you treat children like beasts, they will become beasts. Even Whitehead, she discovers, is partly the victim of circumstances.

Ishavspirater, like Frida Nilsson’s earlier books Jag, Dante och miljonerna (Me, Dante and the Millions), Jagger Jagger and the delightful Apstjärnan (The Ape Star), is profoundly humane, inviting the young reader to sympathise with the underdog – and to reflect on how greed and selfishness corrupt people. It is also a moving story of sisterhood, friendship and courage in the face of extreme hardship.

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