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Saga: A NOVEL OF MEDIEVAL ICELAND Hardcover – April 15, 2005
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This detail-rich novel is a retelling of a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga written by an unknown author. The original document arose from the colonization of Iceland by Norwegian settlers, and this particular tale unfolds before the enticed reader's eye as an intriguing concoction of abject realism (the day-to-day livelihood as practiced by the colonizers is explained, and the physical features of the land are beautifully described) and flights of fantasy (elves are coinhabitants of the Iceland presented here). The story line is essentially about land--who owns it, who disputes the ownership of it--in this hardscrabble agrarian society, where inheritance of land means everything, and honor (and necessary revenge against those who would besmirch it) is the essential tenet of life. Tribal organization and clan government are opened to contemporary viewing and appreciation. With the author's ability to pump viability into the characters, the novel does what good historical fiction is supposed to do: put a face on history that is recognizable to us all. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"does what good historical fiction is supposed to do: put a face on history that is recognizable to us all." -- Booklist, May 15, 2005
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It really fleshes out the lives and hardships of early Icelandic settlers. Land disputes? Marriages? Slavery? Intra-tribal shenanigans? It might sound boring on paper, but you'll soon get caught up in the story.
If I have one gripe (and this is purely my own problem) it's that there are a lot of characters whose names begin with Thro. Thorleif, Thorling, Thorbrund, Thorgils, etc. In modern fiction, most authors take great pains to have differentiated character names to help the reader keep track of them. However, since this is a retelling of a saga (and because culturally many parents named their kids after Thor). On your Kindle, set a bookmark at the beginning where he lays out the quick character profiles and it will save you some grief.
I stumbled upon Jeff Janoda's novel Saga through Amazon's suggestions. Seeing that a number of people had given it very positive reviews, I decided to give it a try. To be honest, I really wasn't expecting much since the book seemed rather obscure, I couldn't quite tell if it was a historical novel or a pure work of fiction and finally it was the author's first novel. As you can obviously tell from the five stars on my review, I was very pleasantly surprised.
The book is loosely based on some history, primarily parts of Eyrbyggja Saga [...]. The characters and events seem to have been thoroughly fleshed out by the writer's imagination, making it a loose fit within the historical fiction category. Despite the literary freedoms with the original saga, the author does an excellent job describing what life was like in 10th century Iceland. This aspect of the book seems to be based on thorough research and credible historical evidence. The reader will undoubtedly get an almost "History Chanel" like picture of ancient Icelandic/Norse culture with all its mythology, traditions and rituals. In addition to the broad cultural overview, the book offers a really cool glimpse into all the details of day-to-day life of Icelandic chieftains, free men farmers, and slaves.
All the interesting historical stuff aside, I think that the story itself is actually the strongest element of this book. There is no central character per se, instead the narrative is focused on the conflict between two influential chieftains and all the secondary characters involved in this battle. Jeff Janoda does a very good job bringing all his characters to life, each with their own complex motivations, emotions, and strategies of accomplishing their goals. The story starts off a bit slow, as with most novels, but the drama starts to unfold in a very intricate and interesting way right around the 35-40 page mark. After that, I honestly couldn't put the book down and finished it off in just a few days.
My only criticism is that the names of two or three chapters in the book provide a dead give away of the final outcome of that particular chapter. It seems that the author/editor wanted it this way, in order to imitate the Sagas of old, however I thought this just ended up spoiling a few plot twists.
Despite the minor aforementioned blemish, this is a very nice book and a very strong first novel for Jeff Janoda. I certainly recommend it not only to those who are interested in the Norse culture and historical fiction, but for anyone who is looking for a good read.
Though it appears to be a substantial work, due to heavy paper stock, it only encompasses roughly 350 pages. Even then, as a result of relatively large type and generous spacing, it reads more like a 250 page book and can easily be polished off in a weekend.
The story revolves around a colony of Norse settlers located on the coast of Iceland. The story is rich in detail, focusing on the challenges faced by the settlers and the interpersonal relationships that exist among them. Weather and conditions are harsh, but no harsher than some of the warlike and conniving homesteaders who combine to improve their lot at the expense of what they perceive to be weaker elements of the society.
All in all, this is an entertaining but not spectacular piece of work.
[Actually my only complaint was that I was missing the ends of two chapters, undoubtedly a result of poor quality control in producing the Kindle version (which I read). Is it too much to ask that even if a human being can't read the digital version, then they could at least flip through "pages" so they can see when text is missing?! Happily, on initially posting my review, I see another reader noted that the Kindle version was fixed as of mid Feb 2015.]