A Story of Iceland and the Power of Storytelling
by Bjørn Larssenr
There was sun somewhere behind them, but it couldn’t find a way out. And right now, neither could he.―
Bjørn Larssen, Storytellers
Would you murder your brothers to keep them from telling the truth about themselves?
On a long, cold Icelandic night in March 1920, Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, finds himself with an unwanted lodger – Sigurd, an injured stranger who offers a story from the past. But some stories, even those of an old man who can barely walk, are too dangerous to hear. They alter the listeners’ lives forever… by ending them.
Others are keen on changing Gunnar’s life as well. Depending on who gets to tell his story, it might lead towards an unwanted marriage, an intervention, rejoining the Church, letting the elf drive him insane, or succumbing to the demons in his mind. Will he manage to write his own last chapter?
Bjørn Larssen’s award-winning, Amazon #1 best selling novel is an otherworldly, emotive Icelandic saga – a story of love and loneliness, relief and suffering, hatred… and hope.
Storytellers is not a fantasy story, at least not in the typical sense. But for something to be a fantasy story, there needs to be a layer of the fantastical, and Storytellers has it. When you read Storytellers, you step in the author’s love of Iceland, both of its immense rugged harshness and beauty. I have heard it referred to as fantasy-adjacent, and that is an apt description, for this is undoubtedly a fantastical story that can only be told from an author like Bjørn. You can see his love of the landscape of Iceland gleaming in every word and description.
The story is two-fold: the current and the past. In the current story that takes place in Klettafjörður, the setting takes place in the early 20th century.
We have a reclusive smith named Gunnar rescuing an injured stranger, and in exchange for help from Gunnar, the stranger, Sigurd, must “sing for his supper.” He has to tell Gunnar a story, and better make it interesting. In this, Storytellers has the feel of One Thousand and One Nights. As the story progresses we step into it the past, into a small Icelandic village. As the story progresses, we learn that not all is as shiny when you start to dig under these characters’ skin. We know more about why Gunnar is such a reclusive, and that we have unreliable narrators in these characters.
As I mentioned, structure-wise is told between two alternating timelines—both the past and current time. Readers need to pay close attention to this, as I had some difficulty navigating the switching from the narrators initially. As the book progresses, it got more comfortable because the cast of characters had developed their own voices, and everything starts to come together, building a tapestry.
One of the best parts of this book and one that I applaud Larssen is how rawly he demonstrates substance abuse and mental illness. Depression, anxiety, alcoholism, imposter syndrome are genuine parts of the human psyche. They deserve to be a part of realistic characters.
In Storytellers, you will have these emotions staring at you in the face. It is a mistake to think that this story is a downer. Quite the contrary, this story feels like how I would believe Iceland feels to an outsider looking in, rough, dark, and beautiful. It is full of crags and mountains and personal struggle and eventual triumph.
I think that to be an Icelander; you have to be made of sterner stuff. Even the storytelling itself, the language and imagery have a dim quality to it. It is as if Larssen wanted to give you only so much light to see the characters, much like the dimness of the light in winter, where all you can see is by the brief bit of sun and the occasional candle.
This is a slow burn of a novel, but the richness of the tapestry that Larssen creates is worth the time and effort it takes to get there. And when I reached the end, I felt like what started out as a somber and slow-burning story evolved into leaving me with a spark of hope shining brilliantly. It was worth the trip to get to this point and know if you decide to take this journey with Larssen, you will be greatly rewarded.
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I purchased a copy of this for my home library.
Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter