As part of The Uncorked Librarian’s 2020 reading challenge, I reserved a bunch of Icelandic books from the library with the intention of just reading one. The book I chose was The Sealwoman’s Gift and my immediate thought was why haven’t I explored these books sooner?! Combining raw, harsh environments with traditional Icelandic folklore was not something I expected to devour but actually, I was hooked. With lockdown in full swing, The Glass Woman was one of five library books I had at home yet to be returned. Seizing the opportunity, I picked it up and was not disappointed.
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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A mysterious tale of love and deception
After Jón Eiríksson’s wife dies of a fever, he sets out on a journey to find a replacement. Travelling to a far-off settlement, his intimidating gaze falls upon Rósa, who reluctantly accepts his proposal knowing that it might be the only way to save her dying mother (with wealthy Jón as her husband, her mother will receive regular nourishment to help heal her sickness).
When Rósa arrives in Jón’s settlement, she is shunned by the community and haunted by the locked loft in Jón’s croft that she is forbidden to enter. As Rósa tries to initiate herself into the settlement, she hears strange things about her husband’s first wife. Many of which lead her to suspect that Jón’s versions of events are not entirely as they seem.
Chills you to the bones
I found myself completely swept up in this atmospheric book; the characters, the plot, the scenery, everything made an imprint in my mind and caused my limbs to shake with cold (and fright). Despite the historical setting, the story had easy readability which kept my attention from start to finish. All the characters brought something to the story with each battling their own demons. I thought the complexity of Jón’s character was brilliantly explored, and the tragic elements fitted perfectly with the nature of the book.
Brimming with diversity
As you know, culture and diversity play a strong role in the books that I am generally drawn towards. I found plenty of diverse themes in this book, including Icelandic sagas, witchcraft, and local traditions. It was interesting to see how the settlements lived during this time period and how their beliefs shaped their processes when it came to dealing with crime and punishment.
And has it made me want to visit Iceland? Absolutely! I love the winter I can envision myself getting lost in these isolated settings and feeling a real connection to my surroundings. I will be sure to pack plenty of layers.
Here’s how I rated the five main things I look for in a novel:
- Plot and narrative – 4
I was immersed in the plot from the very start. It was clear that deception was a major theme and I enjoyed the shroud of mystery that cloaked Jón and his past. Although the book is mostly from Rósa’s POV, Jón does have a couple of chapters and these added tension as the mystery began to unravel. One point lost because the book does have its slow bits.
- Writing style and readability – 4.6
I thought the way this book was written instantly captured the bleak atmosphere and heavy winter weather. I felt instantly transported to the location and era and found it easy to fly through the pages.
- Characters – 4.7
Like I said, I thought each character played a key role in the story, with each sharing some connection to the two main characters. There isn’t a large cast so it was just enough to be relevant to the story.
- Diverse themes – 4.8
- Ending – 4.7
The ending was both expected and unexpected; by that I mean we are given clues leading up to it what is destined to happen. But at the same time, I didn’t want to believe it. I am a tad callous in that I like something that isn’t just ‘happily ever after’ so the ending hit that nail on the head.
Overall rating: 4.6
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 7 February 2019 by Michael Joseph
Pages: 400 (paperback)
About the author: Caroline Lea was born in Jersey and studied English Language and Creative Writing at university. She writes poetry and fiction; her first novel, ‘When The Sky Fell Apart’ is a historical fiction book set in Jersey and was published in 2016.