Monday, 20 June 2011

Troll Fell and Troll Mill by Katherine Langrish

Troll Fell is the first of a trilogy by Katherine Langrish who blogs at the fabulous Seven Miles of Steel Thistles. So it's no surprise to find it full of familiar tropes and characters, but I love the new directions in which these are taken. On one level this is conventional fairy story, on another it's immediate and relevant to a modern-day audience.

When his father dies, Peer Ulfsson is sad and lonely, but preparing to make the best of things by moving in with family friends and continuing his training as a woodcarver. So he's appalled when a hideously brutish uncle turns up at the funeral and claims him as kin. Peer is taken back to his uncle's mill on the edge of Troll Fell, where he's neglected and mistreated. But at least he has his dog Loki with him, and he does manage to make new friends - with young Hilde, a neighbour, and with the Nis, the household bogart, who is equally neglected (and we all know from fairytales that that's not a good idea!). The Nis is sly and mistrusting, and often sulky, but at least he's a source of information about what's going on outside the mill. It's important information, as it turns out, because the trolls who live under the Fell are expecting to celebrate a wedding between their prince and the daughter of the king of Dovre Fell, an event of great significance and one which will have enormous repercussions for Peer and Hilde.

Troll Mill picks up the story some time later, and I don't want to say too much about the plot, except that new characters are introduced while old ones return in a deliciously scary and atmospheric story. Along with Hilde I agonised for Kersten and Bjørn, and I thought the troll baby was tremendous! Peer and Hilde are both struggling with the pangs of growing up and undergoing all sorts of feelings which will be familiar to a young audience. The action is fast-moving though, and these are books which would be wonderful to read to a younger child -- scary, but not oppressively so, exciting and funny, and with the true fairytale emphasis on the resourcefulness of its young heroes. An adult reader, meanwhile, can appreciate the deft interweaving of the elements of the folk tales on which Langrish draws, and the light touch she brings to the exploration of the feelings of her main characters. There are some superb writers working with this traditional material these days - what makes Langrish stand out, I think, is that her love for it shines out of her writing and lends a wonderful freshness and authority.

The trilogy continues with Troll Blood, which I haven't had a chance to read yet. I read both on my Kindle. And, I should add, I enjoyed Troll Fell so much that I downloaded Troll Mill straight away!

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