Comment: Jack, a
Saxon farm boy, has recently been apprenticed to a druid who is
teaching him to do magic by drawing on the power of the life
force. Unfortunately for Jack, he's living in what is now the
North East coast of England in a time-period that is fascinating to
look back on but must have been terrifying to live through (as that supposed
Chinese curse says, "may you live in interesting times!" - see sidebar for more
Before Jack's training is complete the Vikings invade and kidnap him and his sister. They're taken to the Norse homeland, to the court of Ivar the Boneless and his terrifying half-troll wife, Queen Frith, who fancies Lucy as her next sacrificial victim. Only Jack can prevent this terrible outcome by completing a dangerous quest across the Sea of Trolls to Mimir's Well in Jotunheim, the heart of Troll-land.
Farmer cleverly intermingles myth and history in The Sea of Trolls. For example, her description of the first Viking invasion of the British Isles (at Lindisfarne on June 8th, 793) is taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
"A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter. Siga died on the eighth day before the calends of March.
All reviewers wax lyrical about Sea of Trolls, with all four major USA pre-publication review sources giving it starred reviews. For example, Amanda Craig writing for The Times (UK) says, "every so often something comes along which should instantly be added to the list of those books which leave an indelible mark on the imagination....Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls is such a book.... I have no hesitation in recommending it as the best children's novel of 2004."
If that isn't enough of an endorsement I can also add the opinion of one of our own in-house reviewers (then 11-years old), who summed it up quite simply saying, "it's amazing!"
Nancy Farmer is the author of seven books for children and and some short stories. She has written books for almost all age groups of children, from 4 years right through to the mid-teens, usually set in hot climates. I first discovered her books on a Virgin Airways flight some years ago. Each child was presented with a substantial goody bag which included a copy of The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm (1994). I assumed that anything offered for free was likely to be of low quality but out of desperation for something to read I requisitioned it from my then 3 year old son (who, unsurprisingly, had little interest in it). I can still remember the story (set in Zimbabwe in the year 2194). The next book I read was The House of The Scorpion (2002), another thought provoking, futuristic tale - about a boy cloned from a wealthy drug lord in order to guarantee the latter 'eternal life' (recommended for ages 11+).
This review was originally published in February 2005, and has been updated for the May 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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