Shadows of the Short Days - Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson

A couple of days on from finishing Shadows of the Short Days and I'm still not quite sure what I think about it - when I first heard of it, I thought 'that sounds like something I'd like' and that pretty much turned out to be the case, but it's also an uncomfortable read at times and it did that thing I hate where it just kind of stops without a real conclusion. Apparently it's the first in a duology, which I didn't know at the time, so I guess there's that...

 

Anyway, on to the book itself. It's set in an alternative Reykjavik, one which is populated by both humans and a variety of other creatures, a colony of Kalmar following an invasion. This is also a country riddled with magic of two kinds, with one of our protagonists (Sæmundur) as a practitioner with radical ideas about the use of said magic and who we first meet as he's being kicked out of the magical university. Part of the story line in this book is his determination to prove everyone else wrong and the disastrous decisions he makes along the way in order to do so. 

 

Our other main character is Garún, half-human and half-huldufólk, she's not accepted by any part of Hrimland society and spends her days trying to foment a revolution and using magically-infused graffiti to cause chaos. Again, she's a character who will literally do whatever it takes to achieve her aims and drag her associates along with her kicking and screaming if she has to. At one point, Garún and Sæmundur had been lovers as well, but this relationship was just as disastrous as everything else in their car crash lives. 

 

Pretty much everyone we meet in Shadows of the Short Days is unpleasant in some way and it's hard to summon up much sympathy for them - Sæmundur in particular is arrogant to the extreme, making one particular decision midway through the book that sums up exactly how much he's prepared for others to sacrifice in order for him to get his own way. It's only later that he starts to pay the price for the decisions he's made and you might start to feel a little bit sorry for him, since he's gone far past the point of being able to walk things back. 

 

The world-building is excellent, with a lot of thought clearly having gone into all of the aspects of Hrimland society (and there's a glossary, which helps with a few Icelandic terms I wasn't 100% familiar with). I had an ARC so hopefully the mis-spellings and homophone issues have been picked up in the actual published version, as they were a little jarring for those of us with perfectionist tendencies. Not sure I'd want to read it again but would very much like to see if the author can tease out an actual ending from all of this.