This fantasy follows Beowulf’s last living relative into uncharted troll country.
During the sixth century A.D., a two-headed troll rules the Hardanger Kingdom in Norway’s sunless, unmapped north. One head is named Vidar and the other Ansgar, and they both love the taste of human flesh. But Wiglaf the Geat, the last living relative of the Geat King Beowulf, has more pressing concerns. He left his village two months ago, disgusted by his Thane comrades as they ran from the dragon of Earnanaes. Now he’s hunkered down against a granite boulder, trapped in an endless storm with nothing but his sword, Gudbrand, and a reindeer fur. Will he ever find new associates of whom he can be proud? Enter Elenora, the lady troll who rescues Wiglaf and brings him to her cave. Though Wiglaf is delirious, Elenora wears a magic hat to disguise her hideousness, which includes a tail and “hollow backside.” She soon treats him to stew and cures his frostbitten hands and feet. Wiglaf is grateful and agrees to grant her a wish that is within his power. “I want to be married and have a child,” she says, making the warrior (and bachelor) wonder what he’s gotten himself into. In this winsome novel, Girvin (Lucky, 2018, etc.) polishes iconic fantasy elements to a remarkable sheen. The brief presence of Beowulf, who tells Wiglaf, “May your heart remain true and your sword unbreakable,” opens the narrative with mythic thrust. Discussing different types of trolls, Girvin is playful, saying about “farm animal trolls” that they “could whisper in animal ears and make hens not lay eggs as well as tiny trolls that could hide in a child’s mouth and chisel out cavities.” The story’s center is pure sweetness, as Elenora begins her journey with no concept of love—which Wiglaf corrects. Fanciful plot threads, like Dapple, the giant forest cat who slowly picks off the 99 ravens keeping Elenora prisoner, make this a treat for adults and adventurous younger readers alike.
Beowulf’s loyal comrade takes the spotlight in this charming tale.