book review: the sea of trolls

The Sea of Trolls was my first book I’ve read by Nancy Farmer and it was really good. It’s about a Saxon boy named Jack who is becoming a bard and is kidnapped by Vikings (Northmen) with his sister and then he has to go to Jotunheim on a quest after he makes the vikings’ half-troll queen’s hair fall out. He does this accompanied by an unbearably bratty sister (who is mercifully struck mute and left in the Northmen village for the trek to Jotunheim) a one-legged crow and Thorgil, a young female wannabe berserker.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Jack’s quest is suitably epic and he has talent even before he becomes able to wield magic. The entire trip to Jotunheim is where it becomes much more fantastical, which I appreciated. In Middle Earth everything could be explained away by a rational sciencey 21st century observer, but when they cross worlds the magic becomes closer to the surface and it really takes off. The integration of different belief systems (Jack’s father is a Christian, but his mother believes very different things and hides them so as not to be constantly told she’s going to hell) works probably not realistically, but very evocatively for the story.

I don’t know tonnes about Vikings and Norse mythology but Jack’s first mentor is the bard who documented Beowulf’s tale. I love the idea that a kid reading this would later know Beowulf’s story when she has to read it for a first year college English class. This Jotunheim and the trolls and the whole story really are a way better (and by that I mean more faithful) introduction to Norse mythology than anything Stan Lee ever put together. It’s also got a different, less fairy-tale and more epic feel than something like Odd and the Frost Giants. We don’t actually meet any gods, not even in animal form.

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