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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

SPFBO Semifinalist: The Fox and The Hunter by Linn Tesli (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order The Fox and the Hunter over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Linn Tesli
is an author of fantastical stories, for people of all ages. As a previous freelance journalist, she's also written both magazine articles, movie reviews, and feature stories.

As a child, making up stories was how she made her days brighter. She believes that it's an extraordinary thing to be able to dive into words to escape the reality one lives in. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: Elva lives a peaceful life with her tribe, practicing to one day become the noaidi—the shaman. Her peace is shattered when two viking earls arrive in the camp. Her grandmother, the current noaidi, is accused of witchcraft, and is taken away to stand trial before the tyrant king Olav. The punishment is death.

Elva is not ready to become the leader of her tribe, nor is she ready to let go of her grandmother. She is nowhere near strong enough to fight the vikings in Nidaros, but she has to try. She's an outcast in her own land, on a journey that will challenge her convictions, her faith and even her heart. Can Elva overcome the powerful enemy and rescue her grandmother? 

FORMAT/INFO: The Fox and the Hunter is 206 pages divided over 40 numbered chapters and is the first entry in the Where Vikings Roam duology. Cover design is by Linn Tesli herself.

OVERVIEW: Set in northern Norway in the Viking age, The Fox and the Hunter explores difficult themes of a religious and political conflict. The clash of indigenous nature religion and monotheism is brutal and destroys lives. 

The story's protagonist, Elva, is raised to replace her grandmother as the noaidi (shaman) of her tribe when the time comes. She hopes it won't happen anytime soon, but she may have no choice when a Viking earl accuses her grandmother of witchcraft, a practice punishable by death. Elva decides to do everything in her power to stop the execution. 

I deeply believe in the power of brevity and I like focused narratives. It seems Linn Tesli shares my preferences. The story moves forward at a quick pace and doesn't focus on background static. Each scene serves something, Elva has a clearly defined goal (saving her grandmother), and the religious themes are well intertwined with the plot progression and interactions between her and secondary characters, especially with the Hunter (a young and naive son of a Viking Earl, who desires to be baptized). 


I liked Elva's connection to nature and animals, and I found descriptions of shamanic rituals (communication with the spirit world) involving the use of a drum very suggestive. 
Her character arc is all about change. We observe as she slowly changes, hardens herself to the harsh realities of the Viking world, and becomes more, shall we say, cunning. 

The Hunter, on the other hand, remains naive and doesn't learn from what he experiences. I mean, he wants to be baptized for some bizarre reason and even witnessing the acts of cruelty committed by overzealous "evangelists". I hope we get better insights into his psyche in the second book of the duology.

Because the story develops in a harsh, cold climate with little food supply it doesn't shy away from showing a grim reality of killing animals to survive. Many readers (me included) react badly to violence towards animals, so I feel they should know upfront what they're getting into. There's one shocking scene that enraged me but I can't discuss it. Damn spoilers.


Tesli has created a gritty and gruesome world in which violence happens but it’s never included for the sake of shock value (except, maybe, for that one scene). 
While the plot development is solid, there are a few weak points, including a few awkward sentences and the dialogue in certain scenes, where it feels unnaturally formal and stiff. Sure, a dialogue isn't exactly like speech in real life, but it should give the impression of actual, believable conversation. And here, characters' speech varied between nicely flowing and unbelievably formal.

Overall, though, The Fox and the Hunter is a solid, well-written, and engaging story I liked enough to read the sequel once it's published.

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