What’s it all about?:
A brilliantly written and gripping historical Nordic Noir thriller with all the intrigue and atmosphere of Burial Rites, the pent-up passion of The Piano and the suspense of The Tenderness of Wolves.
There are six homesteads on Blackasen Mountain.
A day’s journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.
But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.
It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour’s walk from their cottage.
The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.
To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn’t care; she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain.
They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?
What did I think?:
There were so many things that immediately appealed to me when I first found this book and was determined to have a hard copy for my shelves. For example, the cover is incredibly simple yet very effective and I find it quite striking and eerie – a perfect accompaniment to the story within. Secondly, the synopsis for the novel really pulled me in and made it one of those books that I instantly had to bump to the top of my teetering TBR. In the end, I really enjoyed this debut novel from Cecilia Ekbäck, it is filled with suspense, is dramatic and atmospheric and has a sort of quiet dread or menace throughout the narrative that constantly thrilled and delighted me as I made my way through the story.
Our main character is Maija who comes to settle on the foreboding Blackåsen Mountain with her husband Paavo and her two daughters, Frederika and Dorotea. In the harsh climate of Swedish Lapland in 1717, each day surviving, foraging for food and maintaining their shelter in the harshest of conditions is a bonus and there is no room for idleness or hesitation when navigating through the ice, wind and snow. There are only five other homes on the mountain, the neighbours tend to keep to themselves and it is rare to see another person out and about on the land that isn’t your own family. When Frederika makes the shocking discovery of the body of Eriksson, one of their neighbours whilst herding goats one day, her whole world is turned upside down. The attack is put down to wolves but Maija is certain that no wolf on earth could have made the marks that present themselves on Eriksson’s body. Furthermore, when she tries to voice her worries she meets a wall of silence, not only from the other surrounding neighbours but from the authorities in the village down from the mountain. Someone out there is determined that secrets should stay buried and this may not bode well for Maija if she carries on fighting in pursuit of justice.
This is such a beautiful piece of Scandinavian fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the historical setting and the mystery behind Eriksson’s death but what I loved most of all was the lyrical writing and the entire atmosphere of the novel which was set up so gorgeously I could almost feel the ice cold temperatures and the bitter wind as I was reading. Strong female characters are always an added benefit to a narrative and Cecilia Ekbäck treats us to two in the form of Maija and her daughter Frederika who were wonderfully persistent and brave and in Frederika’s case, wise beyond her years. I was also overjoyed by the superstitious elements that characterised parts of this novel which only served to make the setting bleaker, darker and infinitely more intriguing. It has an intricate plot, plenty of surprises along the way and is written so gorgeously that I could see myself reading it over and over again. I’ll certainly be watching out (with gleeful anticipation) for what this author does next.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):