There has been a huge rise in Nordic Noir over the last few years, The Ice Lands by Steinar Bragi is the latest novel being put forward as the next big thing. Set against the desolate backdrop if the Icelandic countryside, it sees four friends take a journey into the heart of the country in a bid to heal both professional and personal wounds.
When they crash their vehicle into an isolated farmhouse inhabited by a mysterious elderly couple, they will find the tensions of their past rise to the surface as they try to escape from the confines of the farmhouse and discover just who or what has been slaughtering the animals, and why the couple barricade themselves inside every night.
Can they escape what is haunting both from the outside world and fromtheir past lives.
The Ice Lands is a beautifully written book, slow burning and rich with detail and backstory it should have been a satisfying read. It is obvious that the author has painstakingly ensured that the many layers of the narrative all intertwine seamlessly to give the novel a huge depth. This isn't a novel that you can speed read, there is far too many things hidden with its dense structure, and character development. However for a lot of the time the dense and layered structure of the story just gets in the way of the narrative thrust of it. To the point where there are points in the book where you wish he would just get on with it and tell the damned story. There are too many occasions where the flashbacks and character interactions feel shoehorned into the story in an attempt to explain something that either doesn't need explaining, or to hint at something more. At least the author doesn't resort to lengthy monologues for these "info dumps"
The descriptive passages of the novel are stunning in their panoramic beauty the sense of cold and isolation of the desolate landscape ends up being one of the most interesting characters of the book. And that's one of the problems of the book, when the reader becomes more invested in the location of the book than any of the characters you know you have a problem. Everyone of the the characters is just too unlikeable, even the "good one" is one only good because her actions are less selfish and slightly more altruistic than the other three. There is just no connection to anyone in the book.
The book also suffers from not knowing what it wants to be, part psychological drama, part horror, and partly a metaphor for the sociological and political landscape of Iceland, neither of these part fully gel with the others and it comes across as feeling as though the author is trying to do too much within the confines of the story.
This is an extremely well written book, there is no doubt about that, it just falls flat, which is a huge pity. This may be a case of a book that is lost in translation.