The Sea of Trolls

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Nancy Farmer
Simon and Schuster
April 2005 (paperback ed.)
A rare thing in the current children�s market: a title that walks partly in the historical footsteps of Rosemary Sutcliff, Cynthia Harnett, Geoffrey Trease et al, and stands with the best of them. The Sea of Trolls is seemingly the story of an epic quest, steeped in Norse mythology. Jack, an eleven-year-old Saxon peasant, helping his family eke out a bitter living on their farmstead on the chill north-east British coast, is chosen by the village �bard� (the Celts would have named him druid) to learn the secrets and uses of the Life Force. Yet he has only just begun his studies when Viking beserkers descend on the region and carry him and his sister back to their own lands as slaves. Here Jack enters a world that he never dreamed really existed, a world of trolls and half-trolls, sea-serpents and enchantment. With the little he has already learned of the Life Force, Jack convinces his new owner, the larger-than-life Olaf One-Brow, that he may have a use. His baby sister, Lucy, has been given to the half-troll Queen Frith, however, and Jack�s inexpert use of the Force (yes, the Force is with him) leads to her losing her famous silky hair and her human shape. To save Lucy from the dire consequences, Jack must journey into the heart of troll country to Mimir�s Well, at the place where the world tree Yggdrassil pierces Middle Earth. With him go Olaf One-Brow and Thorgil, a self-hating young girl bent on glorious death.

This may all sound Tolkienesque rather than historical: indeed, Amanda Craig compares The Sea of Trolls to The Hobbit, although the description of the Life Force and the way it is used (and the opening of the book, where fog is spun to confound the attackers) seem also to touch the world of Ursula LeGuin�s excellent Earthsea books. Nevertheless, the tale is told in a much more down-to-earth manner than either Tolkien or LeGuin, and what especially delights is how the author gets under the skin of these people. Whether dealing with the once-conquering Saxons, now on the wane, or the rank, muscular, ruthless, lovable Vikings, Farmer�s book goes beyond meticulous research and shows real empathy with how life�s realities and the world of the unseen meshed together to make a life theatre for these people.

The Sea of Trolls is action-filled, funny, sad, touching and vibrant. It sizzles with the advice Jack receives from the Queen Troll: �To ignore joy while it lasts, in favour of lamenting one�s fate, is a great crime.�

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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Cave published on October 18, 2005 11:37 AM.

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