Saturday, January 28, 2017

Land of Hidden Fires by Kirk Kjeldsen

Rating: 3/5 stars
Genre: Historical fiction
Features: Strong female characters, father/daughter relationships

"He that lives on hope shall die fasting."

"People seemed to be full of hidden fires, invisible to one another and often even invisible to oneself."

*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall, I think this book was a good debut novel, but it had some rough patches. I'll start with what I liked about this book.

I liked the way Kjeldsen describes the landscape. Yes, it's cold and snowy the whole time you're tagging along with the characters, but the way he describes it, especially the sky, is quite picturesque. Here's some examples:

"Erling arrived . . . as the storm clouds began to gather, bunching like bed sheets after a long and sleepless night."

" . . . the full moon shone like a bowl of cream, luminous and pale."

"She kept going until the day turned to night, and the sky had become as purple-black as a bruise."

And even though it's nearly always snowing, the author describes the snow in different ways, such as stinging or falling down like flour from a sifter. It really helped me create a mental image of the scenes.

I also really liked that I could tell the author had done his research, and perhaps even had first-hand experience. (You can tell when someone writes about a place they've been, versus pouring over research and writing about it as if they know the area.) Some things I even looked up (like if the sun could be up til midnight in Norway and if some of the flora/fauna were native to the area), because I wanted to make sure it was true. I love when detailed facts are integrated into fiction, but only if they're accurate.

Similarly, I felt the author did his research historically, both through his own investigation and accounts of family members. I really enjoy a well-researched historical novel that gives new insights into a time or place that is fairly common, such as Europe in WWII. I can't say I've read a book about Norway during the second world war, so it was really refreshing. (Side note: I would have liked if the author had added an appendix explaining the German and Norwegian words he uses, such as the ranking of the German military.)

Okay, on to the things that did not work for me in this book:

1) The dialogue
2) The characters and character interactions

The prose in the novel seemed to flow well, but once it hit a scene with character dialogue, it felt shaky and disjointed. Here's an example:

"I'm Lance Mahurin, of the U.S. Army Air Corps—"
She interrupted him.
"I know," she said.
She interrupted him.
"I saw it on your plane," she said.
"Well now," he said grinning.
She turned away, trying not to blush.

It feels awkward, other that the fact that Kari just met an attractive American army man and can't figure out what to say. The whole time Kari is with Lance, their interactions feel stilted.

Kari, as a character, is a rather whiny teenager, and I couldn't figure out why she had such animosity towards her father. Lance is a very under-developed character. I wanted to know more of what he looked like, his personality, his mannerisms. I did, however, like Erling and Moltke's characters, so not all the characters were one dimensional.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will say that I didn't think Erling acted like a parent in a certain situation towards the end of the book. I thought of my own dad, and I couldn't imagine a father being okay with what he decides for Kari.

Although I was frustrated with Lance and Kari, I did like the ending. It reminded me of what Harper Lee said about her book To Kill a Mockingbird: "The novel is a love story pure and simple . . . a father's love for his children and the love they give in return."

And honestly, that's the best kind of love story.

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