"This is my story and it's a love story. Mad, really, as I'm a woman who at the slightest provocation has always cursed lovers for fools." (p. 7)
Pity poor Victoria Scott, a talented scientist who flees a broken engagement to take a job at an isolated Norwegian weather station. She's young, she's bitter, and she's "given up on love." (p. 30) Fortunately for her, she's also the heroine of a fantasy romance novel, so love, true love (albeit supernatural in nature), lies just around the corner.
Victoria, it turns out, is the reborn lover of the Norse god Vidar, who has grown estranged from his barbaric family and longs to live a mortal life with his human partner. However, Odin, Vidar's father, has certain objections to his son's connubial plans, namely that in becoming mortal Vidar will fail to fulfill his divine destiny: saving Odin's life at Ragnarok.
Never one to bottle up his feelings, Odin expressed his objections last time by murdering Victoria's earlier self and slaughtering everyone else on her island. Vidar thus needs to find a way to make Victoria fall in love with him again while also keeping her safe from his homicidal father. To make matters worse, Vidar is unable to explain their situation to Victoria until she has fallen in love with him again.
Such is the basic dilemma at the heart of Giants of the Frost. Complications ensue, of course, in the form of weather-station politics, a love triangle involving a witch princess and Loki, and a trio of supernatural island creatures who want to either help or hurt Victoria.
Fans of contemporary fantasy may find themselves frustrated by the stubbornness of the scientist heroine, who seems determined to out-Scully Scully in her ability to resist accepting the supernatural. This, like much of the plot, seems a throwback to earlier forms of fantasy writing that assumed readers were unfamiliar with mythology and would, moreover, be unable to suspend their disbelief if plunged too quickly into a fantasy world.
Giants of the Frost tries to have it both ways, plunging us first into the explicitly fantasy world of Vidar and the Aesir, and then into the contemporary world of its beleaguered heroine. Perhaps this is a strategy meant to enhance the reading experience for romance readers unfamiliar with fantasy; for the fantasy reader, however, all it does is make the heroine seem frustratingly dense. To be fair, the heroine doesn't know she's in a fantasy novel, but the reader does. The experience is somewhat like reading a mystery in which everyone but the detective knows who the murderer is from the beginning, and is patiently waiting for the heroine to accept (rather than discover) the obvious connection between the clues she has been given. When so much of the plot relies on the heroine figuring out what's going on around her, the result generates more irritation than suspense.
Kim Wilkins is a promising writer, however. Her writing style is clean and effective, with occasional flashes of humor. Although her characters and plot are not strikingly original, neither are they saturated with banal clichés. Indeed, her characterization of the minor human characters who work alongside Victoria is much more detailed and interesting than one generally finds in a linear fantasy novel. For example, Magnus Olsen, the station commander, is skillfully portrayed as a petty, controlling boss whose delicate ego dominates the "office politics" of the weather station and provides the heroine with a few non-supernatural challenges to deal with. With very few strokes, Wilkins thus manages to convey the sense that her heroine is part of a much larger world of people and politics that persist beyond the close of the story.
Also worthy of mention are the characters of Loki, the Norse trickster, and Aud, an enemy of Vidar's family who has fallen in love with him while enduring a thousand years of forced servitude. Loki is, as is common with Norse fantasy, easily the most interesting character in the novel; for the most part Wilkins does a good job of establishing him as a figure of dangerous ambiguity. Aud, on the other hand, is a character with a complex history and (at times) complex motivations. In many ways she is a more appropriate match for Vidar than his mortal "true love," a fact that helps complicate the otherwise straightforward romance plot.
Ultimately, the word that comes to mind regarding this novel is "competent." Like its generic and not-terribly-applicable title, the plot and characterization of Giants of the Frost are neither strikingly original nor memorable. The story contains few surprises for readers who are already somewhat familiar with Norse mythology, or, for that matter, readers who have done more than cursory reading in the fantasy genre. But the book does its job, and fantasy readers who like a bit of romance mixed with Norse mythology "lite" will find it an enjoyable read.
Siobhan Carroll is a doctoral student at Indiana University. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in magazines such as On Spec, Room of One's Own, and Son and Foe.
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