international review: cecilia ekback, wolf winter

Swedish Lapland, June 1717 (note, I virtually never read things set in the past): Finns Maija and Paavo take their children Frederika and Dorotea to Sweden, away from the fear that has beaten Paavo into a shadow of the man he once was. They settle in Lapland, beside the mountain Blackåsen, ill-equipped for living in an isolated and storm-racked area, and have been there only a short time when the two girls take their goats for a walk and stumble upon the body of a man. Wolves, or a bear, Maija tells them. But she knows it is not true. And so their new home becomes not one of hope, but one of fear renewed, atmospheric tension and a landscape as brutal to your home and body as it can be enchanting in a painting.

Maija is a female protagonist so organically heroic it seems not at all out of place in these long past times; things need to get done, and Maija is the one to do them in this land of endless days that in winter turn into eternal nights, and men too trapped by their land, their anxiety and their stoic manner to do anything but shake their heads at a torn-up body in a glade. And so she is the believable midwife turned farmer turned 1700s-era forensic investigator when no one else bothered to try. As those around her say, the mountain is bad, but is it the people on it who are bad, or is it the land itself? The sorcery trials of the past still have their grip on everyone’s lives, but the question is whether Maija’s staunch faith in reality and God is the way, or if it is blocking her ability to see the truth. It doesn’t pass my informal wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-there-was-never-sexual-assault-in-crime-books test, but I was up until 3am reading this haunting thriller (partly for deadline reasons and partly using deadline reasons as an excuse to tear through it in a terrified way), and by then it was as dark as the book itself. My advice: read it in the sun.