Book Review: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

11 Jan

Title: Icefall

Author: Matthew J. Kirby

Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Vikings, Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Scholastic

Published on: October 1, 2011

Source: ARC from BookExpo

Summary: Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

VIKINGS!! Holy crap, Vikings are one of my all-time favorites. I am constantly on the search for more books about them because I am always drawn to their culture and their legends. In particular, I LOVE Norse mythology. And I love reading about living in the cold and the snow and the danger that comes merely from it being winter. It’s instant jeopardy. ICEFALL, thankfully, pushes all of my Viking buttons, AND THEN SOME. This was one of the better middle-grade fantasies I’ve read, and I could both rave and rant about it for ages. (I’ll keep it reasonable here, though. Hopefully.)

Almost more than anything else, ICEFALL is the story of growing up in the midst of betrayal. It unfolds tightly but slowly. Certainly, it was agonizing to read but it was also layered with all of these other wonderful, heart-warming stories that kept the chill out, you know? And while the threat of impending danger hangs over all of the people stuck on the fjord with the King’s children, there are characters like Hake, Alric, Bera, and Harald who put the spotlight on the heart of this story: the indomitable, brave, loyal, and determined Solveig. Guys? She’s the BOMB and I loved her to bits and pieces. Three cheers for awesome MG heroines, guys! Solveig is at the top of my list right now, and it would take a mighty effort to dethrone her.

Solveig is an awesome character. She’s totally coming into her own in ICEFALL in a very real, genuine way. Understanding her strengths, deepening her loyalties, and making her own choices. Wait. What was that? Making her own choices? Are you talking about…AGENCY? STOP IT! But it’s true. Solveig is the bomb because she slowly learns what we know all along: she’s smarter than she realizes, braver, too, and capable of things she hadn’t dreamed of. When she discovers that not only is she good at telling stories–being a skald–but she’s also kind of a natural at it, she decides, despite her own misgivings and fear, that she wants to learn how to do it better. She relishes in the relief and momentary cheer she can give her family and friends who are trapped with her on the fjord. BAM. Strong AND selfless. See? Amazing. BUT THERE’S MORE.

Her relationships in this book with Hake, the berserker (giant Viking warriors), and Alric, her father’s skald who teaches her much about telling stories, just touched my heart and made it grow three sizes. Sometimes I think I had a hard time classifying her and Hake’s attachment, although it was never romantic in any way. More like father/older brother/mentor kind of thing. Whatever it was, it was a thing of AWESOME, and it made me so, SO happy to see a really strong, important relationship between a young girl and a man that wasn’t dirty or weird or creepy. It was just really nice. They shared very sweet father/daughter kind of moments together, which meant a lot to them both: Hake because he had no daughter and Solveig because, as a middle child, her father often neglected her in favor of his son and heir, Harald, or his oldest daughter, Asa. She had a similarly important relationship with Alric that was just as amazing, if for no other reason than he supported her skills and encouraged them in what I imagine was a time when such things in a young girl would be discouraged.

But speaking of Asa, it’s a good thing that this book was about Solveig. Guys, sometimes I kind of hate myself when I read because I feel like I’m overly critical of female characters. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s that I’m more prone to not forgive female characters when they do something awful? Like I know that they have it in them to be great and so I expect them to all be awesome and strong and clever, and that’s not fair. I’m working on it. But listen. Asa? Grrrrr…she makes me growly. She starts the book moping and I figured, oh ok, pretty emo girl is emo. I get it. She’s a teenager. The story progresses. She continues to mope and brood and lock herself in her bedcloset, all “woe is me, I’m the pretty oldest daughter of a king.” I certainly understand that there is nothing easy about being the oldest daughter of a king, but really. Anyway, more things happen, in which she plays a bigger part, and she STILL can’t stop thinking of her own problems! MAJOR SHIZZ IS HAPPENING to other people, guys. Eventually I was like, “SERIOUSLY! Get over yourself, PLEASE!” Her emo became everlasting and I just couldn’t deal. This is all before the end, which I won’t spoil here, but her over-emoing plays a role in it and it made me FURIOUS. If Solveig is an example of how girls/young women in MG/YA can be AMAZING, Asa is an example of how girls in those same books can be selfish and irritating and totally beyond my empathy. (Jeez, Ame, tell us how you REALLY feel!)

I can’t finish this review without talking about how enamored I was was the language and, in particular, the stories that Solveig told. And Alric, as well, because they had this mystical, Norse legend vibe about them that I really dig. But the little short stories, or memories even, that Solveig shares periodically throughout the whole book SLAYED me, they were so bittersweet and meaningful. And written so beautifully. I loved, too, that this book got a little meta with the storytelling, offering lots of great insight into what stories mean and the kind of power telling stories can hold. Really awesome stuff. Here’s a little quote from my fave (on p. 199 of my ARC):

Have you listened?
Do you still wonder at the meaning of these stories, and my reasons for telling them?
One of us is a traitor. One of you. I accept that possibility only because the signs all say I must. But it rends my heart.

I know that evil hides here, but I cannot be the one to uncover it. Neither can any of you. Time will do that for us.
And how I fear that day, for I know that when I look into my betrayer’s face, I will see someone I thought I knew. And I will still love them.


ICEFALL is incredible and captivating, you guys, and it features one of the greatest MG heroines I’ve ever read. I’m so thankful that I read it.


7 Responses to “Book Review: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby”

  1. April Books&Wine January 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    SOLVEIG! ❤

    I bet you would like Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier, because VIKINGS, but also romance!

    Dubs true on the Norse mythology being completely captivating. I loved how Solveig would choose stories based on circumstances, and the situation. I loved how much credence Icefall gave to the power of stories and words. Pretty much I loved this book. Hard.

  2. Lisa the Nerd January 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    1. Norse mythos rules.
    2. Middle grade fantasy rules.
    3. YOU RULE.

  3. Moniz September 23, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    This book is amazing I love a goo mystery thriller


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