Astrid Gormsdottir cannot wait for the snow to melt so that she can ride freely through field and forest. But on her first spring ride she is attacked by wolves, only to be saved by a newcomer, a boy named Leif. And as winter ends there are whispers of a terrifying beast, trolls being attacked and witches on the move.
Astrid and Leif must join forces to face an unknown danger that threatens their very way of life.
The tagline to Oskar Jensen’s The Yelling Stones is ‘A Viking tale of myth and magic.’ Of course, this is catnip to my inner nine-year-old—who am I kidding? This is catnip to thirty-five-year-old me! To add to the must-read-this-now factor of the book, The Yelling Stones has a heroine and a hero who doesn’t fit the traditional Viking mould. The story was every bit as fun and adventurous as its cover indicates, yet it isn’t as straight-forward an adventure romp as it would seem either; there is some true tragedy in the book and some quite serious themes.
At the core of the story, the thing that animates the plot, is the advent of Christianity in Viking territories, replacing the traditional worship of the Norse gods. This conversion was done by hook or by crook. Whether through preaching or by the sword, people were converted to the “White Christ” as the Vikings called him, and sometimes people didn’t have a choice, because their king commanded them to follow him in baptism. Obviously, this didn’t happen without strife and caused a lot of upheaval. Jensen not only shows this upheaval, he also shows that in many cases was a political decision, not one of true faith. I also appreciated the fact that some, if not most, of the people cleaving to the old ways are really and truly faithful to their gods.
One of those faithful to the old ways, is our heroine Astrid. Her parents and eldest brother are all of the old faith as well, while her other brother has converted to Christianity. Through Astrid we get a close up view of the struggle between faiths. But Astrid not only struggles with this and with how to follow her heart, but she also struggles with the expectations her parents have for her. They want her to be a proper lady, to stay home and manage a household, marry to political advantage for the kingdom, all of them things her free spirit can’t abide. Especially the threat of a political, distasteful marriage becomes immediate when the Bishop Folkmar comes to visit the court and lets his eye and possibly more fall on her. I loved Astrid’s spirit and the choices she makes, some of them foolhardy, some of them brave, but all of them hers.
Leif, on the other hand, is already familiar with faiths other than the old one, because he’s encountered them in his home town. In fact, he is of mixed parentage, his father having been a muslim trader. Apparently, it wasn’t unheard of, or even rare, for muslim traders to visiting Viking settlements to trade, or for Vikings to travel to Islamic trade centres such as Constantinople. I like that Jensen chose to have Leif be other than your run of the mill blond-haired, blue-eyed Viking boy. Instead, he’s visibly different, but he’s also set apart due to his skill with words; a skald had a very protected position in Norse society and could rise to be quite powerful, no matter his background. But that will only be true at a pagan court.
Additionally, Leif seems to be spirit-touched, communing with the elemental beings that pre-dated the worship of the Norse gods, who ask him to prevent the coming of the White Christ and their complete erasure. The fantastical elements enter into the book in this guise. The old spirits, the Norse gods, and even beings from Christian teachings enter the fray and all try to gain or keep their place in the hearts of the Viking people.
The partnership between Astrid and Leif was my favourite part of this book. I love that Astrid is the more gutsy, action-oriented one, while Leif is the one who faints, fights with words and is more timid. In fact, when it becomes clear that Leif needs to be able to protect himself, it is Astrid who teaches him swordplay. Yet both are equally brave when it comes down to it. They take risks and do what they need to do to stand by their beliefs and each other. The ending to the book was perfect in this regard, showing both their bravery and their mutual loyalty.
The Yelling Stones is exactly the kind of book I would have gobbled up from the library when I was a youngster, as it is the perfect blend of fantasy, myth, and history. If your middle grader is into Vikings and myths, then this is a perfect read for them. The Yelling Stones is a great debut for Oskar Jensen and I look forward to reading more of his work.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.