Saturday, May 25, 2013

Troll Trilogy, by Katherine Langrish

The Troll Trilogy is a new fairy tale worthy of the Grimms.  The series opens in Troll Fell, with our young hero, Peer Ulfsson, newly orphaned, standing bereft at his father's funeral.  In sweeps a vile, brutish uncle to claim him - one he's never met before, nor even heard of.  Against his protests and those of the villagers who have known him all his life, this cruel man tears him away from all he's known.

His new home is a creepy mill in Troll Fell, where trolls are as common a plague as rats, and other frightening magical creatures lurk in the murky depths of the river and roam the dark.  Far more frightening to our young hero than those are his uncles and their vicious dog as he is made to do nearly all the work around the mill.  His only friends are his own small dog, Loki, and the forlorn house spirit, called a Nis, who pranks his uncles because they do not feed it well.

As he starts to uncover the secret, terrible reason his uncles took him in, he meets and begins to befriend another child in the small village: Hilde, a brave girl his own age.  Together, they outwit his uncles in their dastardly scheme, and find Peer, Loki, and the Nis a new home.

I loved the Nordic influences.  The setting is at once so recognizably Viking, and, yet, not.  Katherine Langrish keeps her setting just otherworldly enough to be an escape, the characters human enough to be familiar.  The entire tale was a dark weaving, an adventure that pulled us in from the first, until Peers and Hilde at last found the way out of their troubles.

Troll Mill brings us the unfinished business of Peers' uncles, and the ownership and operation of the mill itself.  A new creepy mystery arises when the mill begins to run at night.  Even worse for young Peers is that his fledgling attraction to Hilde is met with her mockery;  she has eyes only for a handsome older fisherman.

Woven in with that is the fairy tale of Kersten, wife of the kind fisherman Bjorn.  The villagers whisper she is a seal woman, the sort of shapeshifter a fisherman keeps with him by locking away her seal skin so she cannot transform back.  They say as long as her fisherman husband keeps her skin safely from her, she'll be his devoted wife, but should she get it back, the sea will call her home, taking all his luck with her, until the day an undead Captain of a ghost ship finally drags him beneath the waves.

Sensible people don't believe this, of course, until the day Kersten dashes toward the sea and disappears.  Peers and Hilde, with the help of Loki and Nis - and, indeed, the entire village - try to solve the mystery of what became of Kersten and whether she was really a seal woman, and just what her child is, while Peers also confronts the demons of his past and ties up those loose threads.

While dark, the story of Kersten and Bjorn had a powerful bittersweetness.  It felt right that Peers' uncles reappeared, to be dealt with, and a decision had to be made about the mill.  I thought it might have been easy, there, for an author to toss in a careless happy ending for the mill, leaving Peers potentially a rich young man, but doing so would have ignored the carefully - and excellently - crafted character Peers is.  Katherine's solution was quite perfect, and subtly set the stage for book three.

The conclusion of the trilogy is Troll Blood.  At the personal level, Peers is a boy becoming a man, watching the girl he loves - already considered a woman - dream her future before she sees him as anything more than a scrawny, gangly child.  Hilde is ready for adventure across the sea, in a new land (the Americas) where her father has already sailed.  She gets her chance when her love interest, Arne, brings the commander of a Viking ship to her little village.

The aged commander is looking for a few more hands.  His icy beauty of a young wife is being taken along for the ride, whether she wishes to go or not.  And his hotheaded, vicious young son treats Peers and everyone else as though they exist to serve him.

Into this unpleasant little situation Hilde is drawn, and after her, Peers, as he solemnly swears to look after her and bring her home again.  By the time they leave the shores of Troll Fell far behind them, the Nis and Loki are on board, as well.

Our fairy tale mysteries in this lovely conclusion include whether the commander's icy bride has troll blood, or is merely a witch.  Is she friend, or foe?  Just why did she want Hilde to go with her?  A friend of Peers' new family is said to be in the new land, but he seems to have disappeared, along with his ship, crew, and his young son.  And can Peers get Hilde to see him as anything other than her gawky foster brother, before she marries Arne?

The character progression in this last novel was very satisfying.  The new land was just as strange and yet familiar, with natives like tribes we'd know, and yet fascinating new magical creatures I'd never heard of.  Throughout, I found Peers to be a sympathetic, realistic characters to whom fantastic things happened, but happiness never came too easily.

I don't know if my eleven-year-old daughter will respond to my promptings to read these, but I can tell you I think she'd enjoy them.  I sure did.  You can check them out on Amazon at Troll Trilogy.

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