Good historical fiction-romance. Excellent first novel. Authors of historical fiction, especially of obscure eras, such as the Viking settlement of Greenland and North America, have a choice: stick close to whatever source is available or invent. Gilbert chose to follow the Icelandic sagas. The result is a rich, engaging story.
Gilbert also chose to intersperse modern phraseology with traditional terms and practices. The result is less satisfying. For example, “medicinal practices” knocked me right out of the story. (I’ve lectured about verisimilitude often enough that you don’t need another dose.) “Medicinal” is jarringly modern. “Healing” or “cures” would have been a better word. Likewise, “curvy” to describe a female’s body sounds modern. Full-bodied or even plump would convey the idea better.
I don’t know enough about Viking lore or herbal medicine to critique the specifics, but some practices seem anachronistic. I do know that making butter and making cheese are significantly different practices. The need to a catalyst (rennet) and extended time render cheese making “on the fly” in North America seem unlikely–unless they were making something like cottage cheese.
The deep first person point of view (often, though not always present tense) creates the illusion of riding inside Gudrid’s head. The risk with that approach, as happened often here, is that there is too much telling of what Gudrid thinks to the detriment of showing. The result is often stilted, as Gudrid describes feelings she should be feeling. Gilbert has been compared favorably to Henry James in this approach. Maybe, but I don’t like his protagonist’s navel gazing either.
Those are all quibbles. It’s a really good story and a noteworthy first novel. I hope to read more.
Gilbert handled Gudrid’s nascent Christian faith especially well. At that time and place, Bibles would not be readily available and women seldom could read. So Gudrid was dependent on what she’d learned from priests in Iceland. The conflict between old religion and new is handled well, too. Gudrid’s inner struggles with attractions to men, doubts, leadership issues and her place in the community all ring true.
(Full disclosure: I received this book in exchange for an honest review. Done.)