All The Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie, published by Tor books, is not your usual fantasy novel. In fact, its not your typical book period. Tolmie has created a magical tale, told in the style of a Norse saga, of how a trader brought a herd of Mongol horses home to his native Iceland.
Set in 900CE Tolmie traces the journey of Eyvind, an Icelandic trader across Europe and the Steppes of Asia in his quest for trade goods and profit. Through a strange twist of fate, his refusal to convert to Christianity had resulted in the sundering of a previous trading partnership, he teams up with a party of Jewish traders from the Kingdom of Khazaria, a Jewish kingdom between what is now Russia and Turkey.
In return for his investing in their consortium Eyvind is accepted as a member of the party. This guarantees him relatively safe passage and guides who not only know the territory, but the customs, and most of the languages of those they will be trading with.
While Tolmie tells the story in a fairly typical linear style, she had also thrown in a few interesting deviations and twists. First the story opens with the description of a Mongol camps’ efforts to deal with the ghost of one of their khan’s wives. While the story is fascinating it’s only later on in the tale we realize its true significance.
Even more interesting is the fact the story has been preserved on a piece of stretched hide in three separate scripts; a cuneiform no one can recognize, Greek and finally Latin, and is being read by a Monk sometime after the events depicted in the story took place. As Tolmie recounts Eyvind’s story all the questions the story of the ghost, and the document describing it, are, if not answered, at least addressed over the course of the saga.
Tolmie has created a fascinating story taking us into a time and place few of us are familiar with. Along the way we learn details of people who for many of us have only existed as rumours and myths on the periphery of history.
She has also crafted a wonderful bit of myth making of her own with this tale – the introduction of the breed of horses now associated with Iceland. Their place of origin, the plains of what is now Mongolia, and the story of how they came into Eyvind’s possession, is a wonderful weave of magic and mystery.
Filled with intriguing characters, strange geographies, and mystical happenings All The Horses of Iceland is a wonderful book. Poetic and accessible it tells a remarkable story in a unique way.