Smile of the Wolf: Tim Leach

★★★★

I was absolutely thrilled when I was offered a review copy of Tim Leach’s new novel. His first two books told the story of the Lydian king Croesus, a lyrical tale of a man who falls from majesty to slavery, and learns to live again, drawn from the Histories of Herodotus. This third book takes a new direction, unfolding among the icy crags and rolling valleys of 10th-century Iceland. It’s a tale of revenge; blood; vindictiveness; loyalty; and honour; but, more than anything else, it’s a story of friendship. This is the tale of the farmer Gunnar and the poet Kjaran, recounted with the tragic grandeur and poetic cadence of the great sagas, prickling with ice and flame.

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The Sealwoman’s Gift: Sally Magnusson

★★★★

For those who judge books on their covers, this is a stunner. Just look at that beautiful design: the stylised waves and breakers; the woman’s face emerging eerily from curls of foam on the front; and the galleon surging towards a precipitous white city on the back. Based on historical fact and informed by an account written by one of its main characters, this remarkably assured debut novel tells the story of a group of Icelandic hostages kidnapped by Turkish corsairs in 1627. Carried off to exotic slavery in Ottoman Algiers, the captives must decide whether to cling to a dream of home, or adapt in order to prosper. How should one choose to live, when you’re never sure if you will ever see your family again? Which chances should be taken? How precious is faith? And what should one do when the charms of captivity threaten to eclipse the lure of home?

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Hotel Silence: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

★★★½

Jónas has decided to kill himself. He’s divorced, his ex-wife has revealed that his beloved daughter is actually the child of another man, and his mother is swiftly sinking into senility. Nothing in his life has meaning any more. Even his chats with his neighbour Svanur only confirm his sense of middle-aged male superfluity. And so he decides it’s time to put an end to it all. How and when, of course, are another question. Jónas decides that, to avoid his daughter finding his body, he will have to kill himself abroad and so he decides to seek out the most dangerous place in the world. And so he arrives at the Hotel Silence, in a grim postwar town, where he will discover – much to his surprise – that, with a little effort, many things that are broken can in fact be mended.

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