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Review

Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen

AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: https://www.bjornlarssen.com/
SERIES: (Stand alone)
PUBLISHED: March 28, 2019 (Self-published)
PAGES: 292
GENRE: Historical fiction, Literary fiction

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Blurb

In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember his existence – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.

Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even that wicked elf has plans for the blacksmith.

As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?

The author is an ex-blacksmith, lover of all things Icelandic, physically located in Amsterdam, mentally living in a log cabin near Akureyri. He has published stories and essays in Polish and American magazines, both online and in print. This is his first novel.


Review

ALSO REVIEWED AT: Goodreads

There was sun somewhere behind them, but it couldn’t find a way out. And right now, neither could he.

Gunnar, hermit blacksmith lives in solitude on the outskirts of Klettafjörður, a small village where there is no such thing as a secret kept. His only wish is to live out his days in peace with his “medicine” to keep the darkness at bay, and out of the scrutinizing eye of his fellow villagers. One day Sigurd, a mysterious stranger, shows up on Gunnar’s doorstep with a broken ankle, a bag filled with money, and a story to tell. Reluctantly, Gunnar allows the stranger into his home in order to heal, but the man refuses Gunnar’s pleas to have a doctor tend to his injury, or aid from anyone else for that matter. During the day Gunnar plugs away in his forge, and at night he warms himself by the fire while listening to the stranger’s story of love, betrayal, and murder. The townsfolk begin to grow restless with Gunnar’s drunken antics and Sigurd is not at all what he seems – as the story unfolds, it appears the village of Klettafjörður has more secrets than it may seem.

Ok, I’m going to be completely honest here – this story is amazing, and also very incredibly real. Sometimes too real. I have never read anything that has so perfectly embodied the issues faced when dealing with depression and anxiety: loneliness, denial, addiction, suicidal thoughts, doubt, an unwillingness to accept offered help simply because you feel you’re not worthy of it. While I went into Storytellersexpecting one thing, I was presented with so much more. Yes, I got a story of blind faith and loyalty laced with treachery and heartbreak. Yes, I got a story of a downtrodden man who finally decides to change his life as he sees fit, unwilling to let others pave the path of his future for him. Yes, I got a little bit of mystery with a little bit of magic, followed by INSANE, jaw-dropping revelations. But at its heart, Storytellers is a tale of evading the darkness, bearing with the pain of tragedy, and living to see the sun rise another day.

Storytellers is told in a uniquely executed story-within-a-story fashion, clearly designated as Then and Now, where as the chapters pass, you can begin to see the threads coming together to create a grand reveal. While it is a bit of a slow-burn, the payoff is enormous and oh so satisfying. Larssen skillfully drops breadcrumbs throughout the pages and leaves it up to the reader to pick up on the subtleties, which, when I spotted them, I found to be extremely rewarding. There are twists and turns and lots of unexpected happenings to keep you fully invested and at the edge of your seat, especially during the last couple chapters. 

The general tone of the book is pretty somber, completely immersing you in the themes presented, yet also peppered with a feeling of hopefulness and an eagerness for change. The characters are complex, at times frustrating in their behavior, and many with skeletons in their closets that are just waiting to finally be released. Gunnar’s development throughout is an interesting journey to witness, especially as he advances from “I want to be left alone” to “I want to be the hero”. You’re dropped into a beautifully illustrated setting, only further proving the depth of the author’s knowledge of both the geographical location and the time period the tale is set in. Larssen uses such awe-inspiring and vivid descriptions that only made my need to visit the beautiful country of Iceland grow even more.

Something that resembled green fire danced in the sky….
“Is this magic?” she whispered. “Is it mountains changing shape? Is the sky burning?”

*Sigh*

I was so excited to finally dive into Storytellers and am even more so now that my expectations have been completely blown out of the water. This story is a bit of a change to what I normally read, but I couldn’t be happier with my experience in this place and time in history. Everything about this book is genuine, and completely relatable on so many levels. Larssen is an author everyone needs to keep an eye out for, and I cannot wait to see where he takes us next. I highly recommend.

Justine Bergman

Web developer by trade, ravenous reader, excited reviewer, dark fantasy enthusiast, mother of pups, drinker of strong coffee, and player of games. I'm also a contributor over at Fantasy Book Critic and The Fantasy Hive, and I love sharing the love.

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