In 1501, half-Norse, half-Inuit Bridget Thorsdottir struggles to save her family in the last days of the Viking’s settlement of Greenland.
Set at the onset of the Little Ice Age and the Reformation, Robertson’s debut historical novel depicts the literal and metaphoric freezing of relationships between the Norse and the Inuit, or Skraeling, populations. Bridget has grown up in the backwater Norse settlement of Dyrnes (modern-day Greenland), but she was born to an Inuit mother who took in her shipwrecked father, Thor, 17 years earlier. When Bishop Rollo announces that the entire Norse population is relocating to Vinland while Thor insists that he and his people will stay put, Bridget decides to establish a New World colony apart from the racist, money-grubbing bishop and his untrustworthy English cohorts. Bridget’s stepbrother Bjorn attaches himself to her escape plans, and the two are taken in by Bridget’s Inuit relatives and guided by her adventurous cousin Nago. However, before they can set out, news comes that Thor has been accused of sorcery by the bishop, so the trio sets out on an ill-fated rescue attempt. Bridget is a strong female character who defies contemporary gender stereotypes—perhaps to an unrealistic extent—in hunting and fighting and in her rugged individualism. The trope of corrupt church officials versus the shamanic, naturalistic religion of the Skraelings is somewhat trite, and the depiction of Nago can sail uncomfortably close to the Noble Savage stereotype. The anachronistic appearance of the notorious English slave ship Whydah—commissioned a good two centuries after the events of this tale—doesn’t fit, either. For a story about leaving Greenland, the plot seems to go to extreme lengths to keep the action there, as the trio spends most of their time sailing or kayaking from one fjord to another; even the epilogue takes them to the shores of the New World but stops short of them arriving. The strongest part may be the detailed descriptions of life in both the Norse and Inuit communities of the early modern era, though these passages sometimes bog down the plot.
Solid worldbuilding of a little-known era wedded to a competent but uninspired plot.