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The Sea of Trolls    by Nancy Farmer order for
Sea of Trolls
by Nancy Farmer
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2006 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Saxon Jack lives with his parents and small (spoiled) sister Lucy until he is apprenticed to the Bard. This old man fled to their area after earning the enmity of a half-troll shape-shifter, Frith, whose beguiling human appearance led to her marrying a Viking king, Ivar the Boneless. Jack learns happily from the Bard - to observe what's around him and open up to the magical life force - until Frith sends Viking Berserkers raiding when he is eleven, in AD 793.

Jack's farmer father has always told golden-haired Lucy imaginative tales of lost princesses, ugly trolls, and adventures with happy endings. So when the Vikings come, she calls out to them, and she and Jack are captured and taken to sea. The raider who enslaved Lucy turns out to be a very mean, bullying girl, Thorgill, who longs to die in battle and so earn entrance to Valhalla. She takes a strong dislike to Jack and attacks him at every opportunity. Jack was taken by the berserker leader, giant Olaf. Though Jack initially hates and despises Olaf for his brutality in battle, he grows to understand him, and even to admire his better qualities. In order to stay close to Lucy - whom Thorgill plans to give to Frith - Jack reveals his bardic skills, and so is eventually brought before the Northmen's king and queen.

When Frith demands a praise song from Jack, and his spell removes her hair instead, he's sent on quest to Mimir's Well in the land of the trolls to get the magic to undo the damage to the shape-shifter's looks. Frith keeps Lucy as a hostage, threatening to sacrifice her at harvest festival. Olaf, Thorgill and Bold Heart (a very clever crow who joined Jack on the voyage and clung closely to him thereafter) accompany Jack to Jotunheim, where they face danger from poisonous plants, a dragon, a troll-bear, and a giant spider. Jack and Thorgill meet Glamdis, the Mountain Queen and the Norns (who 'decide when Ragnarok happens'), and they must both sacrifice 'something of great importance' at Mimir's Well, which changes them in unforeseen ways. There we also learn the origins of the Jack & Jill nursery rhyme.

Of course, Jack defeats the evil shape-shifter, saves his little sister and takes her home to their family and the Bard, who tells him that 'Most people live inside a cage of their own expectations. It makes them feel safe. The world's a frightening place full of glory and wonder ... Flying isn't for everyone.' Though the basic story - Saxon escapes after being enslaved by Vikings - is a familiar one, Nancy Farmer adds depth and interest via engaging characters, cross-cultural misunderstandings, monsters, magic, and deft touches of wry humor. Don't miss The Sea of Trolls, a marvelous, entertaining epic adventure.

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