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The Thrall's Tale

ISBN: 0670034649
By Judith Lindbergh

Review by: Grace Tierney

01/01/07

When you hear the word slavery what do you imagine? Downtrodden child-miners, cotton-pickers singing hymns in the fields? What about the word enthralled surely that speaks of a child's wonder over the rainbow or a lovers devotion to their beloveds beauty? Nope, enthralled actually means enslaved, and likewise, a thrall was a Norse slave, not a subject for many experts these days. But Judith Lindbergh, author of The Thrall's Tale, is one of them after a decade spent researching the topic.

Thankfully she never lets the weight of detail acquired during that research to overwhelm the three tales here. Although if you're seeking a historic epic romance than think again there's much more to this book. The three female narrators in this story lived in rough conditions at the very edge of the known universe about 1000 years ago. Katla is a feisty slave girl taught the rudiments of Christianity by her Irish mother. Bibrau is her daughter born from a rape and schooled in the ways of Norse runes, sacrifices, and healing by Thorbjorg - a seeress whose life is constantly threatened by the very wisdom she dispenses.

As each woman meets her own destiny in the newly founded colony of Greenland, the stunning scenery of the place and the varied cast of other pioneers are painted by Lindbergh in near cinematic terms. When more than half the pioneering fleet is crushed in a iceberg field she involves us in the seasickness too, visitors to the main longhouse ride across frozen fjords to celebrate yule in style, and scenes of weaving, harvesting, and even training falcons give us valuable insight in the lives of such tiny communities clinging to life in a land which is mainly covered in sinister glaciers despite the promise inherent in the green of its name an early marketing ploy by Eric the Red if ever there was one!

With the tale beginning with Katla and following her struggle for freedom and love, it is a welcome contrast to find Thorbjorg's voice so ably documented as well. The seeress is nearing the end of a long and difficult life and has gathered a motley team of Thrall's around her, all of them damaged in some physical or emotional way, but she runs a surprisingly open household despite the element of slavery. The third strand of the tale troubled me though, Bibraus voice is so bitter (and with good reason, it must be said) that it left me losing sympathy with Katla and Thorbjorg because she despises them so much. Ultimately too much of the middle portion of the book lingers over her training as a seeress which could have been brushed over more lightly given the earlier portions about Thorbjorg's skills and beliefs. We all love a good villain in fiction and Bibrau certainly has her tragic flaws and suitably dramatic ending, but somehow she didn't work for me.

Additionally, if that slower middle section had been shrunk, the clash between the Norse beliefs and those of the new Christianity brought to the colony for trade purposes could have been examined in much greater depth and, given the characters involved, might have yielded more drama and revelation.

 Nonetheless, this book held my attention to the well-resolved ending and revived my interest in things Nordic. Images of a fledging Greenland will linger in my minds eye clearly enough to make me wonder if Judith Lindbergh has a time-travel-machine under her bed. Which leaves me with one more puzzle. Which of the three women was the thrall in the end a slave to a master, a slave to hate, and a slave to God little wonder that being enthralled is not always a pleasant state of being.

The paperback edition of this book is due out this month, but if you love books, consider the magnificently bound hardback edition you will feel like you have a genuine Viking saga in your hands and as this novel proves, those sagas are rich source material for any reader or writer.

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