Book Review: Kári Gíslason’s The Sorrow Stone is a compelling re-imagining of a violent Icelandic saga

The Sorrow Stone

After a vicious act of revenge, Disa and her son are on the run. Desperately seeking safe passage to the home of her brother’s wife, Aud, Disa looks back at her life, and to the litany of passions, tragedies, and betrayals that have led her here.

At once brutal and elegant, The Sorrow Stone is the latest novel from Saga Land co-author Kári Gíslason. A gripping retelling of an ancient Icelandic saga, it’s a marvellous feat of character and story-telling, all wrapped in a bundle of less than 250 pages. Based on Gísla saga Súrssonar – the saga of Gísli the outlaw – Gíslason’s re-imagining places Disa (originally Thordis), Gísli’s sister front and centre, weathering the storms of her family’s making.

Fans of Hannah Kent‘s Burial Rites and Kiran Millwood Hargrave‘s The Mercies will find much to gravitate towards here. And they’ll be duly rewarded, as families feud, tensions simmer, and ancient tradition buckles under rising Christianity.

With so much packed into the story, it’s tempting to go into The Sorrow Stone expecting it to lean to melodrama. But that’s not how you tell a saga. Gíslason’s writing is straightforward and compelling, and wonderfully suited to the oral traditions of the sagas that inspired him. It’s elegant without being flowery; simple without being staid; dramatic rather than melodramatic.

And through it all, Disa endures; the wronged woman, vengeful sister, and fleeing criminal of the original saga given voice at last. There’s a lot to explore here, from her relationships with her brothers and her duty to her family, to her eventual marriage and the tragedies that await. Gíslason handles it all beautifully, crafting a novel that is as much a study of a side-lined character as it is an exciting tale of vengeance and blood ties.

The Sorrow Stone

FOUR AND HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Kári Gíslason’s The Sorrow Stone is available now, through University of Queensland Press. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

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