Horn Book MagazineThe story of Ran;s youth, which she relates years later, centers on a brief idyllic period framed by two incidents of violence extraordinary even for those rough times---it's the Viking era in the last generation before the advent of Christianity. At sixteen, Ran is taken by her mother, Astrid, and Astrid's vicious lover, Vigut, to a distant Norwegian farmstead where Astrid dies of a wolf bite and Ran is about to be sacrificed to Odin Allfather when raiders (Vigut's henchmen, it turns out) seize the farm and slaughter its people. Ran herself is rescued by he blind harper, Toki; the two escape to Iceland, where they find friendly folk, hard work, and real happiness until raiders, again led by Vigut, destroy their new community. This time it's a volcanic eruption, which occurs immediately after the brutal murder of Toki and most of the other settlers, that allows Ran and her two children to escape. Branford's prose is lucent and strong, evoking the period's loyalties, cruelties, and transitory joys in a way that recalls the books of Rosemary Sutcliff, thought it doesnt have either Sutcliff's tragic irony or her moral weight. And two in-the-nick-of -time escapes may be one too many. Still, Branford's deftly drawn characters and authentic details of daily survival leave an indelible impression, while the pervasive violence of casual beatings, ruthless terror, and routine blood sacrifice form a stark setting that renders Ran and Toki's fleeting time for love, and for nurturing a new farmstead in an inhospitable land, especially sweet.
VOYAThe night before the stranger Vigut brings news that sixteen-year-old Ran's Viking father and brothers are lost at sea, Ran sees "a dragon in the sky." The fear she feels at the sight of this omen foreshadows the hardships she is to endure. When Ran's mother is killed by wolves, Vigut has Ran falsely accused of causing the death, leading to her selection as a sacrifice to the god Odin. Toki, a blind musician, saves her and becomes her husband. If they continue to live in Norway, they will live as fugitives, always fearing that someone will recognize Ran and carry out the sacrifice; they decide to set sail for Iceland. There Ran and Toki are befriended by a landowner who gives them work. They settle down and have two children. Their idyllic new life is shattered when Vigut and his men attack Ran and Toki's landlord. Toki is killed, but Ran and the children escape. The book ends when Ran, now old, again sees a dragon in the sky. She no longer feels fear for she has found the strength to survive the hardships of life. Branford paints a detailed picture of the harsh cold world of the north in the time of the Vikings. She describes the violence of that era without being graphic. At the same time, she creates characters that will appeal to contemporary readers. With a strong female protagonist as well as action-filled battle scenes, this quick read should appeal to a wide range of readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 1999 (orig. 1996), Candlewick, 156p, $16.99. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Libby Bergstrom
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000(Vol. 23, No. 4)
Children's Literature - Children's LiteratureA fascinating story set in the era of the Vikings, this novel tells the dramatic tale of Ran, a young Viking woman who must fend for herself after her father and brothers die in battle. Forced to travel with her unloving mother and her mother's cruel boyfriend to a winter sacrifice, Ran must fight for her very life when villagers want to sacrifice her. She survives this and many dangerous encounters with the most exciting one placing the life of her new husband at risk. Throughout all her struggles, Ran learns the powerful lesson that she has the ability and the right to control her own destiny. Some of the subject matter, including some violence and sexuality, in the novel may be inappropriate for younger readers. 1999 (orig. 1996), Candlewick Press, Ages 13 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Rebecca Joseph
Library JournalGr 8 Up-An exciting historical adventure. After Ran is accused of causing her mother's death, she is selected as the sacrifice to Odin at the Allfather's yearly celebration. An attack of raiders led by her mother's suitor, Vigut, allows the blind musician Toki to rescue Ran, and the two flee Norway for Iceland to start a new life. Ran's fortunes improve for a while. She and Toki have two children and manage a farm, but fate again intervenes, and Vigut reappears, killing most of the people in their landlord's holding. Toki dies, along with most of the raiders, when a freak storm floods the area, but Ran and her children survive. Branford has written a dark, foreboding story full of ancient beliefs and fortuitously timed disasters. Offerings of meat and runes are made to Odin and Freya and floods arrive at just the right moment to save Ran from certain death. Ran tells the story of her past-interjecting observations about her present circumstances-in a straightforward manner. She speaks of the sadness of knowing her mother doesn't love her and describes the acts of violence committed by the raiders, but her voice lacks passion. Nevertheless, her story is compelling and offers readers a glimpse of what life may have been like for a Viking woman.-Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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I wasn't sure that I would like this book when I first saw it. It's not normally something I would read. But a few pages into it, I loved it. It was just so interesting to read a story about a girl who overcomes all of the hate in her life, finds love, and starts a new life in a place she has never been before and sees that it is not so easy as it seems. This book shows tha we all have hidden courage hiding somewhere in us. I absolutely loved this book, and I recommend it to anyone.
This was a great book. It has adventure, searching, and love. I couldn't put the book down when i first read it. I've read it 4 times now. I usually dont cry during movies or at the end of a book, but i cried at the end of this one!