All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie
I had seen one or two reviews for All the Horses of Iceland which had me interested and intrigued to read it myself. When it comes to narratives inspired by myths, legends, and fairy tales, I can sometimes find that there is a lack of characterisation that takes away from my enjoyment, but knowing that All the Horses of Iceland was a short novella, I felt that it would not be too much of an issue. In fact, I found that Tolmie has created an interesting protagonist for the reader to engage with throughout her myth-like narrative who grounds even the supernatural elements of the story in his pragmatism.
All the Horses of Iceland follows Eyvind, a man from Iceland who joins a group of traders hoping to buy horses from Mongolia to bring and sell all the way back in Iceland. During the long and dangerous journey, which takes several years, Eyvind meets an eclectic group of characters and stumbles unexpectedly into a supernatural situation that will have a lasting impact on him and the mythology of Iceland.
As is often the case with a mythological narrative, it took me a little while to adjust to the writing style and, particularly, the matter-of-fact way in which Tolmie takes the reader quickly from one incident to another with little time to reflect. For me, the middle section of the narrative, in which Eyvind, David, and the rest of the traders come to rest and negotiate with one of the Monogolian villages only to discover that the village is dealing with a draining supernatural crisis, was the most engaging part of Eyvind’s journey. Although the journey home, filled with dangers, was also engaging, I would have appreciated taking a little more time over some of the situations that Eyvind found himself and the effect that it had on him in the longer term.
The ending of the novella is the part that really stood out in my mind after I had finished All the Horses of Iceland, and I believe it is what elevates it from an interesting work to a strong novella. Thorgunna’s prophecy in the last couple of pages creates a sense of unease in the reader that there is something on the horizon that is left to the imagination. Tolmie’s notes shed light on what she was referring to with the prophecy, namely the real-life fissure eruption of 1783, although the rest of the narrative is fictional. Nevertheless, that ending note of unease and the reminder that the story hasn’t finished simply because the novella is over leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
Overall, I enjoyed this novella and it was a quick read once I adjusted to the writing style. I thought that the protagonist was interesting and grounded the mythological elements of the narrative well, although I perhaps would have liked to see more of the longer term effects of his journey towards the end. I would recommend All the Horses of Iceland to those who enjoy mythological or legend-based narratives, particularly traditional fairy tales or folk tales as the writing style is similar.
One thought on “All the Horses of Iceland”