The Thrall’s Tale by Judith Lindberg

Why I Read It: Love Norse historical fictions.

Where I Got It:

Who I Recommend This To: Norse aficionados, archaeologists, historians.

Narrator: Virginia Leishman

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2006)

Length:  ~19 hours

This historical fiction follows the lives of three Viking, or Norse, women in and around 985 AD. in Greenland. Thorbjorg is an aged Seeress, a rune reader, and speaker for Odin. I took greatly to her sense of practicality. Katla (loved this name) is a thrall, or slave, to a Viking lord. Her mother was taken from Ireland in a raid, pregnant. Her red-headed daughter (Katla) was born into servitude and hasn’t known anything else. As she grows, she blossoms into a beauty like her mother. She repeatedly dodges the advances of the Lord’s son, until one day his aggression takes a violent turn. Katla is left scarred and pregnant. Thorbjorg mends her physical injuries and takes her away with to her distant homestead to live and work in peace with her household. Katla develops a deep loathing for the baby growing in her womb and repeatedly wishes it would die. Nevertheless, the daughter is born and raised as the foster-daughter of Thorbjorg, learning much of her skill in healing and rune lore. Bibrau, however, seems to be twisted over the years by her mother’s disgusted hate for her. Due to her lack of speech and her mystique as servant to the Seeress, other kids name her Changeling and worse. Throughout this book, I got the sense that the author Judith Lindberg put a great amount of research into the time and place.

I really wanted to like this novel. However, there was no real joy or poignant turning points in character or plot. There was no one character I found myself cheering for. Katla is damaged but then goes on to hate and damage psychologically her own daughter. Thorbjorg notes the growing malevolency in Bibrau and tries to wrench it out of her with utter strictness, which included locking her in a cold dank shed naked for 3 days. Eventually, after knowing little kindness over a lifetime, Bibrau puts her hand to a series of evil deeds. While I found this novel interesting, it did not strike a cord as other anti-heroic novels had (Wuthering Heights, Brave New World).

The narrator Virginia Leishman really put herself into this book in emotional expression. She also pronounced character and place names with accuracy. The story is told in first person, switching between the three women. I sometimes had trouble distinguishing by voice alone which character was talking.

What I Liked: The characters and place names; the detail in rune lore; seeing Viking culture from a woman’s point of view; the interesting clash between Norse religion and Christianity; held true to life (no one wins all at the end).

What I Disliked: Overall, a depressing novel; held true to life (no one wins all at the end).

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