Posted on Leave a comment

All the Horses of Iceland, by Sarah Tolmie

Review copy provided by the publisher.

One of the difficulties of writing historical fiction–even writing historical fantasy–is making it as far-ranging, weird, and textured as actual history and still having the casual reader accept it. All the Horses of Iceland doesn’t succeed at this, of course–it’s just a novella and not a particularly long one at that, it doesn’t have room for even a tenth the strangeness that its span might imply. But with its very structure it tries: Eyvind, a man of Iceland, travels to the Khazar Khaganate for horses to take back to his homeland. This, in itself, is more of history’s weird loops and complexities than most historical fiction even attempts. Vikings go a-viking! The steppes are…steppey! What are we doing here! Well, we’re doing exactly what we have very solid evidence that actual people did. And the way they figure out how to talk to each other, the places that they are uncomfortable with each other’s customs–and cope, and find ways around that–are extremely historical.

Beyond that, of course, it’s a fantasy novella. So there are ghosts, there are differing cultural interpretations and interactions and rituals for those ghosts. There is the meaning of the white horse. Were this a longer book, I would start to be frustrated by how overwhelmingly male it is, and how straightforward the story. But it is not a longer book. It is, like a much earlier volume, allowed to go there, and then back again. And that is, for this short tale, enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *