Wednesday 13 May 2015

The Yelling Stones

The Yelling Stones by Oskar Jensen (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781471404115

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

I must confess to having never read a book about Vikings until Oskar Jensen’s The Yelling Stones arrived in my mailbox, but now perhaps I could be tempted to read another.

In his debut novel, Jensen successfully blends historical facts with fiction, adding a princess and a poet to the mix and shaping a year teeming with adventure, magic, turbulence and change.

Set in the Viking court of Jelling, Denmark, in 958 AD, Jensen describes the journey of Princess Astrid and the ambitious poet, Leif. At fourteen, Astrid and Leif come from different worlds, yet it falls to this unlikely pair to unravel the visions sent by The Yelling Stones – three witches turned to stone while screaming a spell – and to save Jelling from a powerful force conjured to help abolish the old, mythological ways of the court.
Astrid and Leif’s friendship develops with humour and compassion – Astrid’s strong-will and determination complementing Leif’s patience and thoughtfulness.

Astrid is a staunch supporter of her father – King Gorm’s – court and her place within it, but soon realises that in times of feud, her own family is not beyond using her as a pawn to further their plans.
Jensen’s characters are full and interesting and I found the simplicity of his descriptions appealing. Astrid’s oldest brother and heir to the throne, Knut, became a favourite of mine after this endearing first impression: ‘He looked like he sounded: big, brown and shaggy’.

Alongside the traditional feasting and drunken debauchery associated with Vikings, Jensen introduces hungry wolves and bears, witches, trolls and a powerful winged beast as the story flows through the seasons with their rich, magical undercurrents.

The line between man and beast is often blurred.

Acknowledging the potential difficulties younger readers may have with the Norse language used throughout the novel, Jensen has included a useful quick reference key to important characters and some commonly used words; however, I never found the language distracting or misplaced.
Jensen also includes an historical note about the true events and people of Jelling, which helps to bring a degree of authenticity to the story. I enjoyed the fact that you can actually visit The Yelling Stones.

Although recommended for readers nine years and older, The Yelling Stones does contain some animal sacrifice and a draugur (or awakened corpse), so I would suggest a slightly older readership with an interest in magic, mythology, adventure, friendship or historical fiction.

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