I was familiar with Jim Mortimore’s work from his various Doctor Who novels but nothing I’d read by him could prepare me for the beauty of Skaldenland.
Skaldenland is a novel that doesn’t move in a straight line, it moves instead in spiral form. It never repeats itself but you’ll be forgiven if initially you feel that it does. The more you read, the more you realize that this is a very careful technique that allows the plot and themes to gradually evolve and revolve and reveal themselves to the reader in the form of patterns, ciphers and dreams. Personally I loved the technique as it allowed the book to be enjoyed in much of the same way that I enjoy music. A great musical piece evolves and comes back to themes and adds on to them, that Skaldenland–a book whose central plot device is a music box–should move in such a way is absolutely perfect.
Also the rhythm of the piece allowed the climax to creep up on me and blindside me. I won’t spoil the ending. All I’ll say about it is that it was absolutely the perfect ending for the story and also not at all the ending I expected. It gave me an electric shock reading it and it continued to echo in my mind long after I’d finished the book (I’m writing this review over a month later and I still can’t get it out of my head).
You’ll notice I’ve mentioned very little about plot and characters in this review. I very consciously don’t because I want you to discover them for themselves. It’s a journey well worth taking and one I feel confident that most readers will enjoy taking. I will often one word of caution: if you don’t immediately take to the style of the writing like I did, don’t worry–there is a story there and there are very careful reasons as to why it’s told the way it is and why the characters act the way they do. Stick with the book and you’ll be greatly rewarded!
I look forward to reading much more original fiction by Mr. Mortimore in the future and thank Obverse Books for taking a chance on this excellent work!