Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
Every YA author out there should read this book before they go out and write their own.
In way too many YA books, the adult characters are at best useless, and at worst actively working against the young characters for no reason at all. In this book, the adult characters were realistic, fully complete characters, and grew as much as the young characters did. While I liked the young main character, it's the adult characters I loved. Every one of them was unique and believable.
In too many YA books, the author writes down to the reader -- the plot is too simple, everything is foreshadowed to the point where it's beating you over the head with it. The mystery in this story drew me in so hard! Once the answer was revealed, I was grinning and torn between "I should have known it!" and "No! I can't believe it!" -- like the characters, the plot and the mystery were perfectly realistic and 100% believable.
While this was in no way a horror story, the author took elements from them to increase the tension, and it worked so well.
The story opened with a viking king's children on the run. His son (the prince), is eldest daughter (a very beautiful young woman), and his middle daughter (plain, unremarkable, usually overlooked and ignored). Along with them a few of the king's guards, a slave, a skald (bard), and one woman and her son (to take care of the kids). They were sent off to some hidden fjord to be kept safe and wait out a war. Soon after, a group of the king's berserkers arrived to help protect them.
As winter approached, freezing the sea and cutting off any chance for them to leave, things kept going wrong. Soon the group realized that there was a traitor among them. But who? Every member of their group seemed not just trustworthy, but the main character's friend.
The story was told from Solveig's perspective. She was the middle daughter, the plain one, "nothing special," the one who no one noticed. However, turned out she had just as many gifts as her beautiful sister, they were just not as easily seen. She was smart and observant, clever with her wording. As the story progressed, the skald took her under his wing.
Unfortunately this is one case where me going into a book completely blind worked against me at first. This book had been in my To Read pile long enough that I knew nothing about it when I started reading. So, when the story opened seemingly in the middle of the plot, I was worried this was actually the second or third book in a series, and it slowed my love of it. Still, I enjoyed the characters and setting enough to stick with it, I just wish I had googled it sooner so I could just sit back and let the story unfold instead of wondering what I had missed by not reading the first book.
There's only one thing that keeps me from saying this was a 100% perfect, flawless book. However, it's also a personal issue, unfair to count it against the book, so take this with a grain of salt. My favorite character in the book was the leader of the berserkers. His name didn't work for me: Hake. I googled to be sure, and assuming it's the same as the fish, it's pronounced like 'rake' or 'Jake'. I just hate the sound 'Hake'. I suspect it's because I use the character name 'Haken' (pronounced like hackin' -- short form of hacking), so Hake-like-rake sounds wrong to my ear.
Anyway! Wonderful, wonderful book. While the author said he hopes to one day write a sequel, Icefall stands on it's own perfectly well. I'm more than happy with it as a stand-alone, single book.
And, while I don't usually comment on authors themselves, I was pleased to see he's a gamer too! And I know I have a lot of Assassin’s Creed fans on my friends list, so you might like to know that he's writing the official YA books based on that series.