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Ice Land: A Novel Paperback – August 25, 2009

3.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tobin's second novel (after Bone House) is set in Iceland, A.D. 1000, just as Christianity is taking a foothold and the volcano Hekla is growing restive. In this slick re-imagining of Norse myth, humans, dwarves, giants and gods differ superficially but suffer life's trials equally and are susceptible to love, loss, violence and even the weather. The central character, Freya, is an Aesir (a god), who is essentially human but for her ability to fly and her address: she notes that her kind occupy the space that men create for something larger than themselves. (In Freya's case, she occupies the tainted realm of love.) Among numerous subplots, Freya's story follows her quest for a powerful gold necklace, the Brisingamen, accompanied by a love-torn human teenager named Fulla. Tobin's rich understanding of the source material, backed up by deft historical touches—beds made of moss and skins, turf-roofed houses, earthenware cups—brings the narrative to life. Though women take center stage, Tobin sketches the thoughts of both male and female characters with skill. With an introspective dwarf, the god Odin and a fearsome band of giants, Tobin has this one aimed squarely at the Mists of Avalon audience, and she hits big. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Magic….[this] flight through the seamy side of Scandinavian myth is not as cold as the title might suggest. It's a story of sex, love, blood, and the twilight of the gods, punctuated with hot pools, boiling magma, and volcanic explosions. Very steamy!"
-Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander novels

"A rich, complex, and compelling tale of myth, magic and very human passion. Tobin weaves together legend and history into an epic saga, layering the grandeur of a semi-mythic Iceland with the familiar landscape of the human heart."
-Lauren Willig, author of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

"Ice Land had me with its first sentence. I loved the book's journey into long- ago time and the myths of epic, ancient gods. Tobin is a skillful and talented writer."
-Karleen Koen, author of Dark Angels

"A very engrossing read. Told in Betsy Tobin's lyrical voice and set against a backdrop of mythical and natural grandeur, Ice Land is a tale both sensual and violent."
-Kristen Britain, author of the Green Rider series

"[Tobin] hits big… [Her] rich understanding of the source material, backed up by deft historical touches…brings the narrative to life.'
-Publisher's Weekly

"One does not often meet a heroine with the power of flight, but Betsy Tobin's characters are hardly ordinary people. . . Not just a good story, but one of the greatest."
-The Times (UK)

"Tobin captures this world in all its complexity. . . Here is a world where magic and mystery rise from the currents of nature and not in defiance of it. The land itself, and the sea and sky surrounding, engender myth as naturally as the salmon spawns."
-The Independent (UK)

"ICE LAND is a lyrically written epic inspired by the beauty and the history of that island, and the rich world of Norse mythology that infuses it. . . Indeed the novel grafts a modern sensibility on to ancient myth, and is as much a contemplation of love and relationships as an epic adventure. . . Tobin finds female complexity at the heart of Norse mythology."
-Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"The novels of Betsy Tobin are dark and bloody, sensual and mythic. . . In ICE LAND Tobin inhabits this pagan land with passion and intensity."
-The Observer (UK)

"[ICE LAND] pulses with subversion and unexpected passion. . . an elegy not merely to a different age where the gods were perceived as not so distant, but also crucially to a tradition of storytelling; the gathering around a bright fire to hear tales of hardship, magic and love. It is surprising just how resonant they still are."
-Telegraph (UK)

"Tobin's descriptions of the natural relief of Iceland are triumphant."
-Time Out (UK)


Product Details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452295696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452295698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,904,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was ready to like this book since I am a big fan of Icelandic Sagas. It did not disappoint. Betsy Tobin's language is stark and simple, much like the plain, unfancy tone of the Sagas. There are a few missed notes but overall the effect is consistent and well-crafted. All the action takes place in the present tense, shifting to past tense only to refer to events that occurred in the past (duh.) The narrative voice switches from first-person to third-person from chapter to chapter. Each chapter is headed by the name of the character who is the focus of that chapter. Freya (the Norse goddess of love) is the first-person narrator. She is the one actually telling the story. Fulla is a teenage girl just emerging into womanhood. The story bounces back and forth between these two, and then there is a dismal geological interruption by the Norns (the Norse equivalent of the Fates.) These tidbits from the Norns pop up occasionally throughout the book, and in them the narrative voice is that of the Norns; this is the only time when it could be understood that Freya is not narrating. Dvalin the dwarf and Berling his brother are the subjects of a couple of chapters, and Vili the young man gets a chapter of his own later.

The setting is Iceland, around the year 1000 A.D. King Olaf of Norway is trying to annex Iceland (whose people pride themselves on their independence.) Christianity is making inroads and causing friction with the traditions of farmers who have grown up worshiping Thor and Odin. This novel's Iceland is more magical than the Iceland of the Sagas, but more prosaic than the picture one usually gets from Norse mythology. The geography is mysterious; it makes sense and yet at the same time, it doesn't.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"This book is my love letter to Iceland and its people," writes Betsy Tobin in her afterword to _Ice Land_. And so it is. Tobin is at her best when describing the landscape of Iceland:

"The day we met, I had flown deep into the central highlands, seeking a spot where I could be alone. I found it on a high desert plateau, where a hidden spring had forced its way up through the lava shield, forming an oasis. The water was a brilliant cobalt blue. It spread like fingers across the plateau, and all around it lay a bed of thick, luminous green moss."

Tobin's love of Iceland's unusual landscape is clear. Though her prose is spare compared to some, she brings the land's beauties to life in the reader's mind.

Tobin's minimalist style continues throughout _Ice Land_, with mixed results. Sometimes the prose style works with the story, its simplicity emphasizing the raw forces of nature and the rugged lives of the people who live in the shadow of the volcano Hekla. Sometimes the writing works against the story, though, skimming over events that could be interesting to read, and describing settings (especially man-made settings) so thinly that I had trouble visualizing what these places looked like.

What really bogged me down, though, was _Ice Land_'s lack of forward momentum. There's clearly a plot. The goddess Freya is trying to save Iceland from cataclysm by bargaining for the dwarves' necklace Brisingamen, and the mortal girl Fulla is searching for love and a husband. Yet the tension never feels like it's being ratcheted up. The characters wander from place to place, and in each place, have arguments. Their level of anxiety doesn't seem to rise from one incident to the next.
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Format: Paperback
In 1000 AD in Iceland, Freya the Aesir goddess of love seeks a gold necklace created by the Brising dwarves that the Fates warn her can change history. At seemingly the same time sixteen year old orphan Fulla has fallen in love with Vili, whose father killed her father. Meanwhile also apparently at the identical moments, the Norns observe increasingly dangerous volcanic activity especially by Hekla that looks ready to explode.

Freya works a deal with the dwarves for the necklace in exchange for escorting their leader Dvalin in a quest to cure his sister's infertility. She actually obtains the necklace, but Odin steals it from her. Odin uses the necklace to extort Freya into kidnapping Fulla, who is his daughter; Fulla's human family accepts Vili into their clan as her husband. Hekla erupts destroying much of the surrounding area, but also enables Freya to regain the necklace and rescue Dvalin.

This is an exciting Nordic historical romantic fantasy that use Norse mythology to tell the tale of forbidden loves at a time when Christianity has come to the island. Although the two major subplots can prove difficult at times to follow as perspective rotates frequently, sub-genre fans will relish Betsy Tobin's terrific tale of love conquers all even a legendary God.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Let's be clear about one thing right away: Betsy Tobin's novel, ICE LAND is a children's book, on the order of Kipling's KIM, Wyeth's THE SCOTTISH CHIEFS or Burroughs's THE CHESSMEN OF MARS or THUVIA MAID OF MARS. Don't regard Betsy Tobin as competition for Herman Hesse or Thomas Mann and you will do well.

Buy this book as a birthday gift for a teenage granddaughter or nephew. Be assured that she or he is very likely to come out of a first reading with an elementary knowledge of Icelandic geology, history, religions and myths. The author deliberately humanizes a god like Odin and shows a bit of divine spark in his half human daughter Fulla. The Aesir race of Icelandic gods is just a bunch of humans written larger than the island's Dwarves and much larger than the island's Giants. Miscegenation among all three races bothers no one. And marriage is the ideal, even when not entirely voluntary on the part of the engaged couple.

Religion is important to Icelanders. Fulla's putative grandfather Hogni says that he sailed from Norway to Iceland 30 years ago "to be free" of Christians. Young Vili, Fulla's would be boyfriend, despite the fact that his father slew the human she thought her father, questions both the old gods and the new Jehovah. And Freya and some of the other gods fear the old prophecy repeated by the Norn Skuld that the great gods will outlive their usefulness and disappear. And what is heaven? Is it dwarves and other tribes that create hell among us? "Perhaps heaven is a place defined by man's absence."

Some scholars see medieval Iceland as supplying some of the liberty of conscience and small government ideals embedded in the US Constitution. And you get a three-dimensional sense of these values in ICE LAND. The old gods were fated to go.
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