SHADOWS OF THE SHORT DAYS / AUTHOR: ALEXANDER DAN VILHJALMSSON / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (EBOOK), 25TH JULY (PAPERBACK)
In an increasingly international world, Nordic noir and Scandinavian horror are all the rage. Translated novels are big business, but the worlds of science fiction and fantasy have scarcely explored these strange lands. That is until Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson.
Translated by the author himself from Hrimland, his 2014 self-published Icelandic-language debut, the novel introduces us to former lovers Garún and Sæmundur, residents of an alternative Reykjavik under occupation by the forces of the Kalmar Union. Vilhjálmsson’s city is one populated by humans and by huldufólk, a mythical race of elf-like people, and the blendingar that result from the two. Throw in the raven-like náskárar and the aquatic marbendlar, add an uneasy societal balance, and you have the ingredients for an explosive thriller.
Garún is a blendingar, sick of the lowly position in Hrimland society that her race is consigned to. Alongside a few fellow rebels, she plots to overthrow the rule of the Crown, and enlists the aid of Sæmundur, her ex-boyfriend and student of galdur, a form of magic. But Sæmundur has his own problems, and the Crown wizards are closing in on both of them...
Vilhjálmsson crafts a forceful story, compelling the reader forwards, eager to discover what is going to happen to these sympathetic and very much unsympathetic protagonists. The choice to leave the Icelandic terms for the creatures and magic of Hrimland intact, rather than translate it, lends an authentic yet otherworldly air to the text and, once the reader has assimilated much of the pronunciation (a tip - ð is pronounced like the th in weather), it feels like an authentic tale of an Iceland that could very much exist across the north Atlantic.
Reading translated novels is often an odd experience; the reader is never quite sure how much survives of the original author’s style. But Vilhjálmsson’s own translation is a joy, and never feels like he is writing in a foreign tongue.
Gollancz have signed Vilhjálmsson for two books, with the second part of this duology - the as yet unpublished in Iceland Vættir - due out next year. There is no shortage of new voices in science fiction and fantasy these days, and it’s a pleasure to see how other cultures distil similar themes in so many different ways.
Shadows of the Short Days is a pacy, racy read that blends racial and political issues with traditional urban fantasy fare. A recommended purchase, it will bring an icy chill to your summer reading.