In this beautiful and complex book, it's impossible not to fall in love with Kevin Crossley-Holland's heroine, Solveig, an adorable young Viking woman, brave, sometimes foolhardy perhaps, but not afraid to speak her mind and stand up to her enemies.
We first see her with her father, Halfdan, on the site of a great battle, in which Halfdan, though severely injured, saved King Harald's life. It's clear that Solveig loves her father very much and wants to do all she can to ease his suffering. Halfdan too loves his daughter. 'You all right, girl?' he asks, sensing her horror as they survey the blackened site. He calls her Solva, meaning 'Sun Strong' and tells her, and only her, about the priceless golden brooch given to him by the king, as Solveig shares his memories, trying to forestall the bad ones to focus on the good. Halfdan trembles when he embraces her knowing that he is about to tell her that he is leaving Norway, perhaps forever.
In a subtle weaving of narrative threads, Kevin Crossley-Holland shows us all we need to know to engage with Solveig's story: her empty life at home with her stepmother, her love of carving, her golden hair, her strength and her courage. All these things have a part to play in what follows.
In 'Bracelet of Bones, we go with Solveig on a journey of thousands of miles, on a secret quest to follow her father, south, from Norway to the Black Sea, where Halfdan has gone to fulfil his promise to join the king, in the service of the Byzantine Emperor. In a series of breathtaking plot twists and turns, Solveig meets friends and enemies among the alien traders, crafts-people and farmers of lands, very different from her own. She faces up to death, heartache and treachery, as well as sickness and wounding. All she has to help her is a hopeful trust in friendly strangers and her own strength.
I loved Solveig and her tale and I'm looking forward very much to reading the next part of this saga. Kevin Crossley-Holland is a wonderful writer and poet, who gifts us an added layer of magic, with the sheer depth of his knowledge about the Viking world: its stories, its humour, its rites and passage enmeshed with that of the seasons and the watery cold landscape it inhabits. His poet's language is a joy: 'When winter closes its fist, when the ice-age cracks your bones and the wolf -age moans..' shows a Viking's knowledge of winter's cold in its essence. If you want to read an amazing, enthralling story about Vikings, and discover authentic detail about their lives, told with a Viking voice, look no further.
Pauline Chandler 2012 www.paulinechandler.com
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