Paula Guran Reviews All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie

All the Horses of Iceland, Sarah Tolmie (Tor­dotcom 978-1-250-80793-9, $15.99, 112pp, tp) March 2022. Cover by Erin Vest.

The protagonist of Sarah Tolmie’s historical fantasy All the Horses of Iceland, Eyvind of Eyri, is not particularly heroic. The Ice­lander is hardheaded and practical, but since he’s impotent and deaf in one ear, he’s considered to be an old man at 25 years of age. His adventure is geographically wide ranging, but Eyvind does not participate in any derring-do along the way. It turns out he has a bit of magic, but nothing wildly wizardly. His fictional contribution to history – the introduction of small, sturdy horses to Iceland by way of a mare with no name – is both profound and unrecorded. The story takes place in the early ninth century and follows pagan Eyvind as he travels with David, a Khazar trader of the Jewish faith, from what is now (roughly) far northwestern Russia through the Crimea and Kazakhstan to the steppes of Mongolia. Ultimately, Eyvind manages – by dealing with the unquiet ghost of a chieftain’s dead wife – to obtain a sizeable herd of ‘‘small, hairy, and tough’’ Mongolian horses and, most importantly, a white mare, a ‘‘wind horse who possesses a human soul.’’ If he can get them ‘‘all the way overland and then by river boat and then by ship over the ocean’’ to Iceland, he will be a very wealthy man. We know from the beginning that he will have some element of success and readers will quickly realize this is no fast-paced tale of high fantasy. Those expecting such may be disappointed, but the clever All the Horses of Iceland has a charm uniquely its own. Based in folklore and rigorously researched history, it will be especially appreciated by lovers of Nordic legends and those openminded enough to learn a bit about eastern Europe and western Asia in the era portrayed. This reviewer’s only regret is that the book has no map as a reference.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the March 2022 issue of Locus.

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