Jordan Alyssa Duncan
Nov 9, 20203 min
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Welcome back for yet another book review in honor of #Norsevember! Today's review is The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.
Genre: YA Fantasy
Category: Cozy Read
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
The Sea of Trolls, although categorized as a Young Adult in our library, straddles the line between Juvenile and YA because of the main character's age (11-12) and the sometimes brutal content.
This book follows Jack, an Anglo-Saxon farmer's son eking out a dull existence until he's taken on as an apprentice to the village Bard. A Bard, reflecting the beliefs of that time's mythology, was both a storyteller and magician, so Jack begins the painstaking process of learning magic.
However, Jack isn't far along his studies when his village is raided by Vikings (called Northmen in this book) and Jack and his five-year-old sister Lucy are taken captive.
It's a grueling journey across the sea, with Jack quickly picking up the Icelandic language that is not far off from his Anglo-Saxon. Though he and his sister are clearly intended to be sold off as slaves, the siblings develop a tenuous camaraderie with the Northmen, who take a fast liking to the stubborn Lucy and a more gradual liking to the intelligent Jack.
In the end, it's decided the siblings are too valuable (and likeable) to sell, so they're taken back to the Northmen village, where Jack is introduced to their way of life. It's here that Jack meets the half-troll Queen Frith, sister to Grendel's mother and sworn enemy of Jack's mentor.
Frith, as a villain, is fairly comedic and intended for younger audiences, despite the harsh depictions of the Northmen's plundering and slaughtering on their voyage back home. It's hard to decide how to judge this book when one scene has a character (whom you later come to love) lopping the head off an innocent woman and tossing her toddler into the flames of their blazing house, yet the main antagonist is whining, petty, and famous for her "snits" (i.e. gigantic temper tantrums).
One of these snits sends Jack and his Northmen companions across the sea to Jotun (frost troll) territory to find Mimir's Well—yes, the well Odin sacrificed his eye to for sacred knowledge. Jack is meant to drink from it and obtain the knowledge to restore Frith back to her human beauty, which Jack accidentally obliterated with his magic because he couldn't contain his distaste for her.
The circumstances, while comedic and simplistic, don't detract from the Percy Jackson-esque quest Jack, the berserker Olaf, and the young shield maiden Thorgil embark on. Jack and Thorgil are soon left questing on their own, where they encounter a troll-bear, dragons, trolls, and giant spiders.
Jack's wry sense of humor kept me entertained even through the slow portions (which is honestly the first 2/3rds of the book, as a lot of time is spent on setup and uninteresting sailing scenes). Jack, though raised a Christian, is cynical about mythology altogether, placing the blunt and hilarious observations of a twelve-year-old on what everyone else considers sacred:
Jack wondered why something that had happened at the beginning of the world still plagued them. How long did it take for the punishment to run out? Wouldn't it make sense, after a thousand years or so, for God to say, All right, that's enough. You can come back to Eden? - page 5
"[Odin] tore out one of his eyes and threw it into the well," Thorgil said.
. . . [Jack] couldn't imagine doing such a thing, but the Northmen probably thought it was normal, like trimming your toenails.
What are you doing today, Odin old boy?
Oh, I'd thought I'd rip out an eye after lunch.
Jolly good. - page 302
Fans of Percy Jackson will definitely enjoy being in Jack's head and not mind that the historical and mythological backdrop is very much simplified for the sake of a younger audience. It was a quick and entertaining read, something that could easily fill the Rick Riordan void once you've blown through all of his books.
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