Summary and book reviews of The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

The Sea of Trolls

by Nancy Farmer

The Sea of Trolls
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 480 pages
    May 2006, 480 pages

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Book Summary

The year is A.D. 793; Jack and his sister have been kidnapped by Vikings and taken to the court of Ivar the Boneless and his terrifying half-troll wife; but things get even worse when Jack finds himself on a dangerous quest to find the magical Mimir's Well in a far-off land, with his sister's life forfeit if he fails.

Jack was eleven when the berserkers loomed out of the fog and nabbed him. "It seems that things are stirring across the water," the Bard had warned. "Ships are being built, swords are being forged."

"Is that bad?" Jack had asked, for his Saxon village had never before seen berserkers.

"Of course. People don't make ships and swords unless they intend to use them."

The year is A.D. 793. In the next months, Jack and his little sister, Lucy, are enslaved by Olaf One-Brow and his fierce young shipmate, Thorgil. With a crow named Bold Heart for mysterious company, they are swept up into an adventure-quest that follows in the spirit of The Lord of the Rings.

Other threats include a willful mother Dragon, a giant spider, and a troll-boar with a surprising personality -- to say nothing of Ivar the Boneless and his wife, Queen Frith, a shape-shifting half-troll, and several eight foot tall, orange-haired, full-time trolls. But in stories by award-winner Nancy Farmer, appearances do deceive. She has never told a richer, funnier tale, nor offered more timeless encouragement to young seekers than "Just say no to pillaging."

Chapter Three
The Shadow Across The Water


Jack sat up abruptly. The wind was howling outside. The house held the deep chill that seeped into it before dawn.

"No...I won't do's evil..."

Jack threw back the covers and stumbled to the other end of the house. The Bard's bed was shaking. He saw the old man thrust up his hand as though warding something off. "Sir! Sir! Wake up! Everything's all right." He caught the Bard's hand.

"You won't bend me to your will! I defy you, foul troll!"

Something -- some terrible force -- flung the boy back. His head banged against the stone, and his ears rang as though a blacksmith were pounding on an anvil. He tasted blood.

"Oh, my stars, child! I didn't know it was you."

Jack tried to speak, choked on blood, and coughed instead.

"You're alive, thank Freya! Stay here. I'll build up the fire and make you a healing drink."

The ringing in Jack's ears ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About The Book

In A.D. 793, eleven-year-old Jack leaves his family farm to become an apprentice to the Bard, a druid from Ireland, who is assigned to his Saxon village. At first, he is unsure of his duties, and is puzzled when the Bard experiences a nightmare that Jack later learns foreshadows a rollicking and dangerous adventure-quest with the Northmen, led by Ivar the Boneless. Jack and his little sister, Lucy, are snatched by the berserkers and enslaved by Olaf One-Brow and his shipmate, Thorgil. Accompanied by a crow called Bold Heart, the two children encounter a sea of characters: humans and animals, trolls and half-trolls. There are surprises around every corner, and just when doom seems imminent, there ...
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Media Reviews

Lawrence Downes - The New York Times

The Sea of Trolls conveys, more vividly than any textbook, the Vikings' storied fatalism, their devotion to heroic death and to a savage afterlife in Valhalla. Hearing the Northmen talk rapturously about the glories of being slaughtered in battle, the sensitive Jack can't understand it, but the reader will.

Ayesha Court - Special for USA Today

Farmer brilliantly marries historic details about life in England, Scotland and Scandinavia in A.D. 793 with the magic of runes, trolls and bards. This story will send readers on a quest to read more about this bloody but fascinating era. Ages 10 and up.

Roger Sutton - The Horn Book Magazine

Drawing upon history, Norse and Celtic myth, and Farmer's own abundant imagination, the story is long but engrossing, a cruel tale with a merry heart about a Saxon boy named Jack and what befell him upon his and his younger sister's capture by marauding Northmen (and, later, trolls).... The book is effectively sparing in its use of fantasy elements, but when Farmer pulls out all the stops such as Jack's encounter with the three Norns - she does so with aplomb and assurance.

Publishers Weekly

Starred review. Plotting and incidental players such as dragons and giant spiders in Jotunheim take precedence over character development here. But if the relationships are not as fully fleshed out as in Farmer's previous books, fans of Viking and adventure tales will still be up late nights to discover Jack's fate. Ages 10-13.

Steven Englefried - School Library Journal

Starred Review. Gr 5-9-Farmer draws upon Scandinavian mythology and medieval history to create an engaging tale.....Geographical and mythological elements are revealed through conversations, rather than narrative description. Despite the legendary tone of some of the events, there are plenty of lighthearted moments, and the characters never seem stiff or contrived. This exciting and original fantasy will capture the hearts and imaginations of readers.

Paula Rohrlick - KLIATT

Farmer, author of the National Book Award winner The House of the Scorpion as well as other notable books for YAs, has outdone herself in this rich and satisfying fantasy based on Norse mythology.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Starred review....adroit worldbuilding and dead-on characterization combine with faultless plotting and an irresistible mixture of historical truth and mythological invention to create a tale of high adventure and exploration that reads with unexpected sensitivity, warmth, and humor. Maps, a cast of characters, a series of short explanatory appendices, and a list of sources are included.

Rebecca Hogue Wojahn - VOYA

Lighter in tone and subject than The House of the Scorpion, this novel is nevertheless deceptively complex. There is enough magic, history, and mythology to keep fantasy lovers enthralled, yet the humor, modern speech (Jack is warned to just say no to pillaging), and nonstop adventure will pull in reluctant readers as well--if they are not daunted by the number of pages. All will come to love the distinctive characters--especially the brash, bloodthirsty Northmen--just as Jack does on his quest. Ages 11 to 15.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Jack is a friendly companion in this exciting story of sacrifices made, lessons learned, and friends lost and found, all told with grace and humor. Allusions to Beowulf, the destruction of the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, and the Norse legend of Jack and Jill offer a rich backdrop for a hugely entertaining story sure to appeal to fans of The Lord of the Rings. (appendix, sources) (Fiction. 10-13)

Amanda Craig - The Times (UK)

Despite the pot of gold supposedly waiting for every new author who writes a fantasy novel, the classics of children's literature remain pretty much the same. Why bother to read new ones when the old are so good? Yet 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 Sea of Trolls as the best children's novel of 2004.

Reader Reviews

makayla james

great book
This book was riveting.


The Sea Of Trolls
I like this book because it is full of adventure, old time legends and magic. I cannot wait until I get my hands on the rest, just like always. I love her books.


Sea of Trolls
This book is a good book to read. It keeps you on the edge until you finish. it is an interesting story because the main character always is traveling . I would recommend this book to older people who are good readers.

Colby Taylor

Sea of Trolls
This is an excellent book and have you guessing to the end. I love this book.

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Beyond the Book

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was originally compiled on the orders of King Alfred the Great in approximately A.D. 890. It was subsequently maintained and added to by generations of anonymous scribes until the middle of the 12th Century. If you have any interest in British history it's worth skimming the version at Project Guttenberg (which is compiled from about 8 distinct versions of the Chronicle), if only to read the entries for such well known dates as 1066.

Some people believe that the nursery rhyme, 'Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water....' comes from a Norse legend ...

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