After Gunnlaug's offer to marry the king's oldest daughter is refused, the angry warlord declares war. To protect his children, the king hides Princess Asa, younger daughter Solveig and Prince Harald in a frozen mountain fortress under the charge of a few warriors, 20 "berserkers," the king’s personal guards and Alric, who is a "skald" (storyteller and poet of the living past, bearer of their ancestor’s history).
This misfit group of royalty, servants and men loyal to the king plan to sustain themselves as the fjord freezes over and the sea is closed. They are marooned until spring or when news of the war arrives.
But the living space is claustrophobic. Anger flares. There are rumors of treachery within the group and many become poisoned on tainted meat. Everyone is suspect of being the traitor. Only Alric's calm storytelling tempers the ill omens permeating the icy air.
Solveig brings to this isolated place insecurity about herself; she is not beautiful like Asa and is seldom recognized by her father. Yet it is tenacity and honesty that reflects her growth in a serious situation. Food supplies run low and as contentions and illness break out among the berserkers and warriors, she takes a stand demanding civility.
Alric teaches Solveig the gift of storytelling and she finds success for the first time in her life.
Matthew J. Kirby skillfully increases the tension of the story in spurts as sharp as shards falling from the glacier. The mystery of traitors and the unraveling of the evil schemes leads to a happy-ever-after conclusion, which readers will probably find satisfying.
The theme that places “Icefall” among one of the best reads of the season is Kirby’s integration of storytelling, the oral tradition that becomes the basis of recovery in this northern tale of war. And storytelling is the recovery. As Alric dedicates his stories to the listeners, he becomes a teacher who treats the legends as art so that they will not be lost on the next generation.
Kirby works with students in the Davis School District. He will be signing “Icefall” and a previous novel, “The Clockwork Three,” Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at The Kings English Bookshop.
IF YOU GO
What: Matthew Kirby book launch and book signing
When: Wednesday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m.
Where: The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
What: Matthew Kirby book signing
When: Friday, Oct. 7, 6 p.m.
Where: Barnes and Noble, Layton Market Center, 1780 N. Woodland Park Drive, Layton
When: Monday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Barnes and Noble, Jordan Landing, 7157 Plaza Center Drive, West Jordan