Sarah Tolmie’s All the Horses of Iceland is beautifully poetic novella which, like the Edda‘s and the Heimskringla by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson, lays forth the story behind a national legend. For Tolmie, that’s the story of all the horses of Iceland. And like all good legends, there’s magic and the supernatural, there’s good and evil, and there’s a wanderer who encounters many things.
On the surface, this might appear to be a tale of the horse of Iceland. In fact, we open with a poetic moment:
Every horse in Iceland, like every person, has ancestors who sailed here in a ship. What has a horse to do with a ship? In a ship, a horse cannot hold on. A horse cannot row or trim sail or bail out water. A horse has no business on the sea at all. Horses were carried here, cold and sick and protesting, in open boats, frost riming their manes, from Norvegr and the Føroyar, from Irland and Hjaltland and the Suthreyar. Their sturdy kin can be seen in all those places, long-haired in winter, working around farms and fjords. These little horses of the North, strong as oxen, carry tall men in their endeavours of work and pleasure and war, all the way to Garthariki. The mare of whom this saga speaks, she came from a land beyond even these, a great ocean of grass. Her journey here was long and the wealth she brought with her was considerable, but no rune stones speak of them. What are the most important words, after all, that rune stones record?
But a horse can’t tell its own story and as the narrator suggests, a horse had no reason for being on a ship to Iceland. Except for Eyvind. Eyvind of Eyri was a trader who brought the horses to Iceland. Focusing on one mare to whom the ghosts spoke and who was somehow able to command the attention of other hardy horses.
It really is a marvelous idea and the language is so captivating. It is so disappointing, then, that the story itself is so ponderous.
Though barely a hundred pages, this book reads like a 500 page epic. Not because there are so many lofty ideas, but because it moves so slowly and sometimes incoherently (“Who’s speaking? That’s the ghost? No, that’s the horse? No, it’s a merchant we haven’t met yet?”).
I was so eager to read this book, I moved it ahead of all my other books in my ARC-to-be-read queue. It was so disappointing then to be so let down.
Looking for a good book? All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie is beautifully poetic and appears to be not unlike classic Scandinavian myths and legends, but perhaps the story gets lost behind the words.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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All the Horses of Iceland
author: Sarah Tolmie
paperback, 112 pages