The Sea of Trolls Trilogy
The Sea of Trolls (first volume)
Cover illustration: Tim O'Brien
Atheneum, 2004; audio: Recorded Books
Jack, a Saxon boy, and his sister, Lucy, are kidnapped by Vikings. When Lucy offends the Viking Queen, who is a half-Troll, the Queen's hair falls out. She threatens to sacrifice Lucy unless Jack can restore the hair. With Thorgil, a Viking maiden, Jack goes on a quest to fetch water from Mimir's well that will re-grow the Queen's hair. Jack and Thorgil's have to face their own deepest fears and battle with a troll bear and a dragon, escape giant spiders, and stay on the right side of the fearsome Trolls who live near the well.
Read an excerpt, a guide for readers, and questions and answers about this book. You can also download a screensaver from the publisher's website.
ALA Best Books For Young Adults, ALA Notable Children's Books, Book Sense Book of the Year Award Honor Book, Capitol Choices List (DC), CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council), Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best, Horn Book Fanfare, Judy Lopez Memorial Award Winner, Kirkus Reviews Editor's Choice, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Finalist, NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, NYPL "Books for the Teen Age," PEN USA Literary Award Finalist, Publishers Weekly Best Books, Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, Washington Post Best Books, Westchester's Choice
"Should instantly be added to the list of those books which leave an indelible mark on the imagination... a hair-raising, spine-tingling, heart-stopping adventure which really does bear comparison to The Hobbit."--Amanda Craig, in The Times Read more
*"...envelops the reader...a tale of high adventure and exploration that reads with unexpected sensitivity, warmth, and humor."--Bulletin of Center for Children's Books, starred review
*"a hugely entertaining story sure to appeal to fans of The Lord of the Rings."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review.
*"Readers will want to sail through these nearly 500 pages to find out what happens to ... Jack and his sister."-- Publishers Weekly, starred review.
"brilliantly marries historic details about life in... A.D. 793 with the magic of runes, trolls and bards."-- Ayesha Court, USA Today
*"engrossing...a most adroit fusion of the natural and supernatural worlds" --Horn Book, starred review, Fanfare
"Poor Jack. He's 11, a farmer's son living in a village on the northeast coast of Britain in A.D. 793. He is vexed by family issues: while his mother is loving and wise, his surly, demanding father saves all his paternal affection for Lucy, Jack's sweet 5-year-old sister. Hard-working, unappreciated Jack has little to look forward to but a tedious life of plowing, tending sheep, collecting driftwood, clutching his cloak against the wintry gusts and grating his teeth on gritty loaves of dense, crusty bread.
Other Anglo-Saxon children would presumably see no problem with that, but Jack is sensitive, and when ''The Sea of Trolls'' begins, on a cold February morning before dawn, in lambing season, we find him feeling a little sorry for himself.
But Jack is also the hero of a Nancy Farmer book, which means that things are not going to stay this bad for long. They are about to get much, much worse.
Those who know British history recognize 793 as a 9/11 of the early Christian world -- the year vikings ransacked Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, slaughtering peaceable monks and beginning a long era of seagoing terror in the British Isles.
It is Jack's fate to see his world upended just as he is enjoying his first lucky break in life, as apprentice to the Bard, a solitary old man with mystical powers. The Bard, sort of a Saxon Obi-Wan Kenobi, has recognized Jack's potential and begun to teach him the druidical arts, such as how to summon mists, fire, birds and other elements of nature by tapping into the omnipresent life force.
This makes for some lyrical passages, but Farmer has an adventure to relate, and it's not long before Jack and Lucy are kidnapped by a viking raiding party and hustled into a longboat racing along the coast under the command of a giant, bearded, braided Northman named Olaf One-Brow. Jack is beaten, bloodied, taunted, terrorized at witnessing his captors' murderous rampages and even scrutinized by Picts at a slave auction -- all before Page 120, a point at which, it is safe to say, Jack's saga has barely even begun.
Literary canvases of epic vastness and strangeness are no sweat for Farmer. Her earlier, highly acclaimed children's novels are grounded in historical reality, but soar with free-ranging flights of dazzling imagination and plots that would seem slightly deranged if their execution weren't so skillful and engaging.
Compared with ''The House of the Scorpion,'' a science fiction tale about a 142-year-old drug baron ruling an empire along the United States-Mexico border, and ''The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm,'' set in Zimbabwe in 2194, ''The Sea of Trolls'' might seem positively mundane. But don't worry -- this is not just another viking story. Besides raging, smelly Northmen with names like Sven the Vengeful and Eric the Rash, Jack's perilous adventures also involve trolls, dragons, dragonlets, troll-cats, troll-boars, giant snowy owls, a Mountain Queen and Norns, about which don't ask. Beowulf and Grendel have cameo roles.
"The Sea of Trolls blends ancient history and Norse epics with recognizable bits of ''Star Wars'' and ''The Lord of the Rings,'' which only makes sense, since both of those 20th-century sagas owe a conspicuous debt to the mythology of northern Europe.
But Nancy Farmer clearly has no intention of photocopying old genres. She is not afraid to employ archaic, grandiose language, with graceful passages that evoke epic poems, sometimes literally. (She even uses Icelandic type fonts for some phrases.) But her writing is lyrical without being stilted.
Her aversion to stodginess, in fact, sometimes goes too far. She can't resist letting her characters speak in 21st-century wisecracks -- an ironic use of sarcasm and colloquial language that some readers will find irresistible but that this one found distracting. (After a mystical vision makes Jack black out and sink dizzily to his knees, for example, he gets up and explains to baffled villagers, ''It's a bard thing.'' Right.)
That said, Farmer practices her narrative arts with delightful ferocity. Her story snaps with humor and energy, blending poetry and unsentimental violence in passages that are as bracing as a slap.
Her characters -- even the mythical and animal ones -- ache with longing and are overcome by bitterness and spite. Thus does Farmer shatter the museum glass of history and make her characters live and breathe -- none more, perhaps, than the great Olaf One-Brow, who is heroic and brutal, but also loving, loyal, conceited, dim, sometimes demented and often charming. It's a credit to Farmer that a reader might think this even knowing of Olaf's capacity to gleefully slice the heads off innocent village women and throw their babies into fire.
''The Sea of Trolls'' conveys, more vividly than any textbook, the vikings' storied fatalism, their devotion to heroic death and to a savage afterlife in Valhalla. Hearing the Northmen talk rapturously about the glories of being slaughtered in battle, the sensitive Jack can't understand it, but the reader will."
Lawrence Downes. --New York Times.
The Land of the Silver Apples (second volume)
Cover illustration: Jon Foster
Atheneum 2006, audio: Recorded Books
Jack and his companions take Lucy to a shrine where the demons she is believed to harbor may be cast out, but things go badly wrong. Lucy is abducted by the Lady of the Lake and Jack must follow her underground to the lands of the hobgoblins and elves. He meets Thorgil again and, with her and a new friend, Pega, must face tests beyond anything they can imagine. They must learn to see through the enchantments of the elves (who are the fallen angels) and to face still darker powers in the underworld.
Read an excerpt from the book.
Bank Street Best Books of the Year, Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best, Emperor Norton Award 2007, Horn Book Fanfare
*"In this sequel to The Sea of Trolls (2004), Jack discovers his sister Lucy is a changeling, and he is off on a quest to find his real sister and bring her home. With the help of the Bard and Pega, the slave girl he has freed, Jack goes to St. Filian's Well, accidentally causes an earthquake and ends up in the Land of the Silver Apples, where elves rule and time stands still. As the middle volume of a planned trilogy set in eighth-century Britain, this takes its shape from the whole: It can stand on its own, but it mostly enlarges the world of the first volume. It's not the quest itself that's memorable, but the majestic sweep of Farmer's storytelling, from the story of Lucifer and the battle of the angels to the Man in the Moon, the goddess Hel and any number of hobgoblins, yarthkins, knuckers and kelpies. Jack, Pega and Thorgil prove strong and capable in ways they themselves never suspected, and readers will look forward to the final installment. (appendix, sources) (Fiction. 10-14)"--Kirkus Reviews, starred review.
*Gr 5–9—"Jack, apprentice bard and hero of The Sea of Trolls (S & S, 2004), returns in the middle volume in the trilogy. After a flawed midwinter ritual leads to strange behavior from Jack's sister, Lucy, the siblings travel with a group of old and new friends to the monastery at St. Filian's Well to find treatment. However, the monks prove treacherous and Lucy is kidnapped again, this time by the Lady of the Lake. Jack travels to the Land of the Silver Apples, the home of elves and other magical creatures, in search of her, joined by the freed slave girl Pega; his old friend the shield maiden Thorgil; and Brutus, a slave to the monks at St. Filian's. Jack comes to accept the truth about Lucy and learns more about himself through his adventures in the timeless magical land, and then returns to the human world, where he confronts an evil king with help from his new magical allies. Jack's character continues to deepen and develop, both in his magical skills and as a person. Farmer draws on mythology, including legends and runes of the Picts, to add depth to her story, and her author's note and sources add authenticity to the narrative. She builds on Jack's adventures in The Sea of Trolls and at the same time creates a stand-alone novel, drawing readers into this complex world and leaving them looking forward to more."--School Library Journal, Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary School, Franklin, WI, starred review
*"Farmer beautifully balances pell-mell action and quieter thematic points, especially the drawbacks of immortality and the wild tangle of Christian and pagan traditions in eighth-century Britain. Like the druidic life force Jack taps, this hearty adventure, as personal as it is epic, will cradle readers in the "hollow of its hand."--Jennifer Mattson, Booklist, starred review
"This sequel to The Sea of Trolls lives up to the expectations set by the first novel....this fantasy is truly remarkable with the blending of the myths and ancient Christian tales."--VOYA.
"In this entrancing ... sequel, Jack, now 13 and a bard-in-training, is forced to head out to rescue his little sister Lucy once more when she is kidnapped by the Lady of the Lake....Their Tolkienesque adventures, filled with magic, danger, and humor, will appeal to all fantasy fans who enjoyed the acclaimed first book."--Kliatt.
The Story Behind Writing The Land of the Silver Apples (by the author)
I studied history in my mother's 19th century library. Her books were full of wonderfully gloomy pictures of storms at sea, heretics getting thrown out of towers and lightning bolts striking sinners. This was perfect training for getting and keeping a child's attention during history lessons. Later, as an adult in Zimbabwe, I was hired to write "the sparkly bits" in textbooks for African children. My job was to lure reluctant readers and the series was called The Spellbinders.
I discovered that children would study anything, even open-pit copper mining, if it was presented in the right way. In my novels I don't cut back on vocabulary. I meticulously research and use bibliographies and appendices, because almost all of my books are intended as textbooks as well as entertainment. Do reluctant readers read them? You betcha. Kids are a lot more motivated than people give them credit for.
The Land of the Silver Apples, the sequel to The Sea of Trolls, is written on several levels. It exists most importantly as an adventure. If this is all a reader responds to, that's fine, but beneath lies a layer of history and legend. Beneath these, in turn, are questions about immortality, the afterlife, what's worth living and dying for, honor and loyalty. Heavy stuff, dude. Kids like heavy stuff. It's a mistake to deprive them of it.
Jack, an apprentice bard, Thorgil, a Viking warrior, and Pega, a slave girl, must enter a timeless realm where all is beautiful and yet ultimately hollow. Their task is to rescue Jack's sister, but from the very beginning deeper meanings are hinted at. Pega is given a simple candle in which lies a direct link to the life force and to humanity. Pale though its light seems, it is stronger than any illusion. Pega is one of the key players in pushing back the old beliefs as Christianity spreads its influence throughout the pagan world. That's a lot of concept for one little book, and most readers won't notice or care. They can have a lot of fun in the lighter end of the pool. But I have provided a deep end for children who like diving under the surface and exploring the depths. Enjoy.
Cover illustration: Jon Foster
Atheneum, October 2009
Read an excerpt.
*"Jack, Thorgil and the Bard are off on a new quest in this immensely satisfying conclusion of the trilogy that began with The Sea of Trolls (2004) and continued in The Land of the Silver Apples (2007). This time it’s not a kidnapping that sets the stage but a draugr, an undead spirit seeking revenge and threatening Jack’s world. To stop her, the three head off to Notland, realm of the fin folk. It’s a wondrous tale of hobgoblins, mermaids and sea hags, Saxons and Northmen, old gods and young bards, thoroughly steeping readers in Norse mythology. It’s also a long, beautifully written tale, expertly weaving together several story lines and informing readers new to the series of crucial plot points from the previous volumes. Even the appendix is fun, offering additional information and a link to a site where a Celtic war trumpet can be heard. Readers may well suspect—and hope—that a new series of Jack’s tales may be in the offing. " (Fantasy. 10-14) --Kirkus Reviews, starred review