Saturday, 21 April 2018

On The Cold Coasts by Vilborg Davidsdottir

On The Cold Coasts by Vilborg Davidsdottir
First published in Icelandic as Galdur by Forlagid in Iceland in 2000. English language translation by Alda Sigmundsdottir published by AmazonCrossing in 2012.

One of my WorldReads from Iceland

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £5.74 (audio CD)
Wordery : unavailable
Waterstones : from : £8.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $2.50 / £0.01 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

When a fleet of one hundred English ships is caught in a horrible storm off the cold coasts of fifteenth-century Iceland, twenty-five ships are lost. For Ragna, the daughter of a respected family and betrothed to Thorkell, her relationship with one of the seamen washed ashore results in pregnancy. Now barren due to a traumatic childbirth and stigmatized as a fallen woman, she is left with no prospects for marriage when the betrothal is ultimately canceled.

A decade later, Ragna becomes a housekeeper to the new English bishop in North Iceland, where passionate and ambitious Thorkell is a priest and steward. They embark on a fervent but doomed love affair as priests cannot marry and Ragna will not be a concubine. Little does Ragna know but her host, the bishop, is instigating the conflict between the English and Nordic settlers to his own gain, with a devastating impact on his housekeeper. As sweeping as it is intimate, On the Cold Coasts is a powerful, enduring story of love and personal sacrifice.

I'm going to start by saying On The Cold Coasts is an ok story. For the £1 I spent on the Amazon ebook, it was quite good value, but there were several things that niggled and prevented a higher rating and more enthusiastic response.

Firstly, the synopsis gave me to understand that the book would follow the life of Ragna, a woman in fifteenth century Iceland. This is kind of true, but I felt the majority of the scenes actually focused on Men Doing Important Things while Ragna was relegated to the sidelines or even off into the kitchen. Her torrid romance with Thorkell left me pretty cold too. He occasionally notices she exists and they sleep together, which apparently is enough for her to consider him the love of her life. I know social standards were different back then, but this woman is excelling in a responsible job while raising a son singlehandedly. I just didn't buy that, romantically, she would allow herself to be so ignorantly treated!

Iceland itself is well described and I got a good sense of the religious struggles of the time. Various branches of the Church all believe Iceland's trading profits should be theirs and the English (of course!) Bishop is one of the most sly. Overall though, I think On The Cold Coasts just wasn't rich enough a historical novel for me. I do like to be swept up in lots of period detail and this story was more action-focused. So, yes, an ok read, but it's no Burial Rites!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Vilborg Davidsdottir / Historical fiction / Books from Iceland

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