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The Thrall's Tale

The Thrall's Tale

4.0 19
by Judith Lindbergh

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Set in Viking Greenland in AD 985, this dramatic historical novel focuses on the intertwined lives of three women straddling the pagan past and Christian future

A vividly imagined chronicle of love, hatred, and revenge at a time when the Vikings were exploring to new worlds, Judith Lindbergh's spectacular debut novel takes its inspiration from Old Norse


Set in Viking Greenland in AD 985, this dramatic historical novel focuses on the intertwined lives of three women straddling the pagan past and Christian future

A vividly imagined chronicle of love, hatred, and revenge at a time when the Vikings were exploring to new worlds, Judith Lindbergh's spectacular debut novel takes its inspiration from Old Norse Sagas and creates the riveting story of a beautiful slave, her ill- begotten daughter, and their maligned but powerful mistress.

Lindbergh spent the last ten years researching and writing The Thrall's Tale. This monumental work, illustrated with maps and accompanied by historical notes, will surely appeal to readers of Norse history and sagas as well as to fans of great historical fiction like Anita Diamant's The Red Tent and Sena Jeter Naslund's Ahab's Wife.

"Every once in a while, a writer creates a novel that opens our eyes to a lost world. Arthur Golden achieved this with "Memoirs of a Geisha," and now Judith Lindbergh has performed a similar feat...Gripping and wholly original...a story that transports through time and place, but always remains anchored in the unchanging territory of the human heart."
-Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders

"The Thrall's Tale is not only a wonderfully rich historical novel, it resonates strongly into our current age with its exploration of religion-driven cultures in collision. The voices of the story are pitch-perfectly convincing...Judith Lindbergh is a greatly gifted novelist and she has created an enchanted and provocative reading experience."
-Robert Olen Butler, winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

"Lindbergh is a master storyteller, deftly weaving meticulously researched detail with unforgettable characters. This novel satisfies on every level ...The plot unfolds with the suspense of a thriller, and you'll stay up all night to follow the many transformations of Katla's life. With The Thrall's Tale, Judith Lindbergh emerges as one of the finest historical novelists in recent years."
-Jonis Agee, author of The Weight of Dreams

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lindbergh's epic debut novel chronicles the early Viking colonies in Greenland through the eyes of the embattled female denizens. Katla, the titular thrall born to a Christian Irishwoman enslaved in a Viking raid, emigrates with her master from Iceland to Greenland in A.D. 985. Katla's rosary sets her apart from the pagan Norse, and her beauty brings the unwelcome attention of her master's eldest son, Torvard. After he violently rapes her, she is bought and nursed back to health by the compassionate seeress Thorbjorg and eventually gives birth to a daughter, Bibrau. The three women alternately narrate the tale: Thorbjorg teaches Bibrau her mystic Norse wisdom even as she foresees the end of her way of life; Katla longs for her gentle lover Ossur and the chance to practice her Christian faith; and Bibrau, despised by her mother and mute from birth, becomes obsessed with revenge, turning Thorbjorg's wisdom against her. The final third of the book charts the conversion of the Norse colonies to Christianity, as well as the unfolding tragedies of the characters' lives. Lindbergh's language is occasionally overwrought, but her well-researched and emotional evocations of characters in a time of religious and social upheaval are dramatic and entertaining. Agent, Emma Sweeney. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
It is 985 C.E., and Eirik Raude, today known as Erik the Red, has been exiled from Iceland for several murders committed over a dispute about some house timbers. With 400 settlers and 25 ships, he sets sail for the shores of Greenland and tries to carve out an existence in the harsh and forbidding environment. Among the settlers is a thrall, or slave, by the name of Katla. Young and beautiful, she falls victim to a violent rape that produces a daughter, Bibrau. Despised by all except for an aging seeress and healer, the girl grows up to be dark, twisted, and vengeful. The story of Katla and her daughter is set against a land torn by war and religion as the faith of the White Christ gradually overthrows the old beliefs in the Viking gods Odin and Thor. Inspired by the Norse sagas, this first novel by Lindbergh, who has published poetry and travel and cultural pieces in numerous journals, is thoroughly researched and beautifully executed. Highly recommended for public and university libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]-Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A grim historical novel of Norse-settled Greenland. In her debut, Lindbergh ambitiously imagines the harsh, aggressive world of the Vikings, at the moment when old beliefs are giving way to new. There is not much pillaging and only one rape, but that event is the book's fulcrum, a savage episode in a story more memorable for its dour suffering than its driving plot. Three flawed females narrate it, each shaped by a different set of beliefs. Irish slave Katla, daughter of Christians, is the rape victim, her beauty ruined by the brutality of her attacker, Torvard, her master's son. To suppress the shameful episode, she is sold to Thorbjorg, a wealthy witch/seer/healer, versed in the rituals of the pagan gods, and a member of the group sailing to Greenland to establish a new settlement. Katla gives birth to a hated girl, Bibrau, a changeling who is trained by Thorbjorg in the business of spells and runes but whose impulse, unlike Thorbjorg's, is malign. Lindbergh dwells lengthily on mood and misery: Plague decimates the community and Katla's love for a freeman, Ossur, is continually thwarted. The cold, malodorous Viking way of life is evoked in an awkward, archaic language that veers between translationese and rough poetry (with hints of Yoda-speak): "Borne his hate, have I." The last quarter of the book picks up some momentum while retaining the gloom. A Christian priest arrives and buys Katla's freedom, enabling her marriage to Ossur. Christianity spreads quickly and even wicked Torvard converts. But Bibrau, bent on unhappiness for Katla, first arranges Ossur's mysterious death on a hunting trip with Torvard, then harms Katla's new baby. A long, ill-shaped, bleak but atmospheric take ofthe Middle Ages.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.57(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Judith Lindbergh's work has appeared in Archaeology magazine and in connection with the Smithsonian's exhibition Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. The Thrall's Tale is her first novel.

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The Thrall's Tale 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Daisy58 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this story~true it's not the norm that most like to read but I found it very interesting. I loved how it was written and felt like I was there watching these women's life unfold.  I found myself myself thinking what a hard life these women have lived.  I say even if this in not your normal type reading don't rule it out, give it a chance...don't forget, as they say variety is the spice of life and that applies to books also... 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
elcee39 More than 1 year ago
I disliked this audiobook intensly, so much so that I didn't finish the recording. Fortunately, I had checked it out from the library, so it didn't cost me anything. I don't think that I can give a fair review of the book itself, (maybe it would have been better as book) because I so totally hated the reader's voice. Every time she said "Bebrow" (or however it is spelled), it set my teeth on edge. I am inclined to think it would have been a better story if it had focused solely on Ketla (which came across in the recording as "Cutler) rather than switching back and forth between the three women. Ketla was the only slightly likable person in the book, and she wasn't that likable either, especially with her refusal to love her daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love historical fiction, but this book, for the most part, did not evoke many strong emotions. The lead character endures slavery, rape, separation from her home and family, loss of her lover, and fear of her own child, yet I never felt real emotion from her. It was all so detached. It was, howevr, a fascinating look at a people and era not commonly written of in novels. I liked how the author wove the magical myths and beliefs of the characters into the story not as "myths" but as a fact of their lives. I just wish I could have connected with the character's emotions better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mirella More than 1 year ago
In the year 985 A.D. Viking ships set sail from Iceland towards a newly discovered land they named Greenland. Aboard these ships are men and women who carry the hope of starting a new life. This is a tale of the history, of the inhabitation of Greenland. It is portrayed through the poignant dialogue of three generations of women as they struggle to survive the harsh landscape in the search for happiness.

As a young girl, Katla was captured in a Viking raid of her Irish village. A slave to a kindly master, she is forced to travel with him to the new land. While on the ship, Katla meets Thorbjorg, a prophetess whom every fears and shuns.

Soon after their arrival in Greenland, her master¿s son, a cruel young man named Torvard, brutally beats and rapes Katla. Not only must she bear the emotional and physical scars of this assault for the rest of her life, but she finds herself pregnant. Hatred for Torvard and the child, Bibrau, consumes her.

Bibrau grows to become a cold, withdrawn child partially due to her mother¿s dislike of her and the beat the villagers belief that she is a changeling. After a vision from her god, Thorbjorg assumes responsibility for the unwanted child and makes her an apprentice. Misunderstood and unloved from the start, Bibrau shows a great talent for the healing arts. She begins to dabble in the black arts. The anger and hatred she carries in her heart, prevents Bibrau from excelling at the healing/magical arts. As her power grows, she learns to favour the evil over the good, wreaking havoc upon her mother and the rest of the inhabitants of their small community.

In The Thrall¿s Tale, Judith Lidbergh transports her readers into the violence and turmoil of early Greenland. Told in the voices of Katlan, Bibrau, and Thorjborg, the reader is ensnared by the rich prose which provokes intense emotion throughout. Vivid in historical details, this novel is a true work of art and can stand alone as a precious insight into a time long forgotten. I recommend it to anyone who longs to be swept away by a story rich in words and unique in detail. The prose is very rich, so read at a leisurely pace to enjoy the full impact of the lyrical writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I see many 4 and 5 star reviews and was wondering if this was the same book that I have found to be a terrible read. Utterly disappointed is the best way to put it. After only 50 pages into the book I have immediately lost interest. Well, that is assuming I at one point had interest. The book is depressing and it doesn't capture emotion very well. The author keeps repeating (in different words) how hard it is to be a slave. A good author would be able to convey that image without have to outright say it. And that is just the beginning of my disappointment. If you feel this is a book you have to read, check it out from the library. Save yourself the money.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be extremely depressing. I know that people, especially then, lived hard lives, but this book was just obsessive in its pursuit of unhappiness - the glimpses of fun and love experienced by these people are very few and far between. Bibrau is a frightening character - but what chance did she ever have with her 'Christian' mother always there to insult and hate her. Just further evidence that not all Christians are Christian and the priest was a character that you just love to hate. The seeress was the best character and I loved all the Norse history and 'pagan' folk-tales - that part was totally interesting and very authentic. But, overall, not sure I am happy to have read this. I wanted to kiss my children afterwards and wash my hands somehow of the effects of this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Still undecided on the rating as the story itself is interesting and very well-researched. The style, modeled after the Old Norse lyricism, can be a bit overdone and the characters become a bit tiresome, particularly Katla, the Christian thrall or slave. I found that the prose of the book is like that quirk you first love so much in your significant other and, as time goes by, it becomes annoying. It happened with the book. Sometimes, I loved the book. Sometimes, I just wanted to get over with. Read it if you don't expect a fast moving Viking saga.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gem of a book. The author's style sends me back in time and I can imagine I am in Greenland watching these wild events unfold!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed the historical novel ¿the thrall¿s tale¿ by Judith Lindbergh (Plume/Penguin, 2006). The book is a masterfully told tragedy with heart-thrilling triumphs along the way. A good book tugs at your emotions, a great book grips your emotions. I was gripped. It is a story woven with richly imagined, richly lovable yet deeply flawed characters, pegged to historical events in a very credible way. The evocation of the locale, and the ways of the people of that place and time, were very convincing. The clash between the new and the old religions that took place during this time provides an undertone at the beginning of the story and becomes a central theme later in the story. With respect to this changing of the gods, Lindbergh, is very honest about the two religions that clashed there, showing the positive and the negative inherent in each and allowing human nature to prevail in redefining the transition from the Norse Gods to Christianity¿s God. With that transition comes freeing of thralls (slaves), yet this freedom is an illusion. Freedom meant working to survive, as before, but now with no help from former owners turned into landlords expecting their rents without lifting a hand or making any investment to assure crop or stock production. The blood-sacrificing to influence the gods was stopped, but sacrificing to influence the now single god did not stop. The sacrifices required were changed: no longer animal parts sent up into heaven in smoke, but now a share of the production that kept the people alive was sent to the church to keep it alive. This new order was enforced by imposing yet another magical world view, a view of an unseen world just as full of good and evil, but perhaps not capricious, inhabitants as before. I never saw the word ¿love¿ in this whole book. There was self-sacrificing devotion shown by some, expressions of love, but that was not part of the vocabulary or thought of that day. In one heart-warming honeymoon-like scene the love is so richly described that the reader co-experiences it like a warm blanket on a cold night. In that one scene there is a sublime description of the healing and life-affirming power of love, but it is not cheapened by an anachronistic use of the word. Lindbergh develops her characters so that, no matter what they may do or say, you understand them even when you are appalled or disagree. This makes it hard to peg any (with maybe one exception) as evil or good. I loved each of her main characters, Katla, Thorbjorg and even Bibrau whose allegiance simply did not lie with humans but with otherworldly inhabitants who gave her purpose and power. Lindbergh told a great story about human nature under extremely trying circumstances. Being curious about the Norse experience in Greenland or the changing of their Gods or the demise of Viking culture are curiosities that may develop while reading this epic tale. They are not prerequisites.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Much has been written regarding The Thrall's Tale and Ms. Lindbergh¿s distinctive writing style, exquisitely bleak setting, and fascinating look at Viking religious customs, but not much has been said about theme. Perhaps this is because the novel just might leave the reader in a trancelike state. Having read The Thrall¿s Tale months ago, I¿m only now thinking longer about its deeper currents. For instance: Thorbjorg¿s pagan character reminds me that we Christians don¿t have a monopoly on kindness. Indeed, the priest in the story could have learned a thing or two from her about forgiveness, charitable acts, and the merits of not rushing to judgment. Many other themes may strike you, if you allow them. After reading The Thrall¿s Tale, I find myself wondering if hate is, in fact, more elemental than learned. It is the character of Bibrau who thus haunts me. Juxtaposed to the compassion of her adoptive mother, the shaman Thorbjorg, I¿ve never experienced such a resonating fictional study of the potential for human dark-heartedness. Chilling. You might not like Bibrau, but you¿ll never forget her. The last of these examples I¿ll give kind of relates to the first two: forgiveness protects one¿s soul from poisons of our own manufacture, but it doesn¿t necessarily promote longevity of the flesh. I don¿t want to spoil any of the story, so I¿ll leave it to you to read The Thrall¿s Tale in order that you might discover for yourself about whom I¿m speaking. In closing, I¿ll say that my observations on theme DO NOT mean The Thrall¿s Tale is some sort of story to be admired from afar. Quite the opposite, in fact. There¿s plenty to grab your interest early and keep you reading later. The themes are there if you want them, but are subtle if you don¿t. I read the novel in two or three sittings and, as I mentioned above, am enjoying these nuances only as they come to me many months later. Forget what you¿ve grown accustomed to in contemporary writing, find the rhythm in Ms. Lindbergh¿s tone, and prepare to be transported to the desolate sweeps of both earth and man, circa A.D. 985.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a rare treat to come across such a vividly descriptive novel that will capture your attention the way that this novel does. Kudos to Ms. Lindbergh for bringing Eric, Katla, Thorbjorg, Bibrau and the others to life for us. As someone who enjoys reading and does alot of it, I was thrilled to come across this novel and I was saddened when I finished because I wanted my journey to continue. I look forward to Ms. Lindbergh's next masterpiece.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Thrall¿s Tale does not allow its characters easy answers - nor does it for its audience. But then, life was not easy for early Norse settlers or any other pioneer. That is what is rendered by Judith Lindbergh¿s novel, a version of truth elevated only by its language, not happy endings. My reading of this was refreshing because it was not yet another formulaic addition to pulp nor the substance free verbiage masquerading as literature. Thrall¿s Tale harkens back to an earlier work by Frank Herbert, THE SOUL CATCHER, another novel that did not crumble under the pressures of commercialism but unflinchingly told a harsh story to it end. Informed by the title, this novel revolves around a thrall or slave in 985 AD Greenland, her illegitimate daughter and their mistress or owner. Life for freemen was hard enough on this rough continent I cannot image what it would be like for a woman alone and her slaves. Yet Ms. Lindbergh tells it well - a story of the fringe people, those not normally included in the adventures of Viking raiders. Their pagan beliefs were portrayed as real, not condescendingly reported as quaint myth. But instead of a sparseness of language to convey life¿s harshness of the time, Ms. Lindbergh used events and the malevolent actions of her characters. To raise the reader above the darkness of life, language was employed in a way that suspended the imagination so that the uninitiated felt as if they were reading the Old Norse. Like Shakespeare or Dickens is to the modern reader, at times one has to work to find the author¿s meaning. But like good poetry, it is time well spent. In short, The Thrall¿s Tale tells a good story about the settling of a very difficult land and the transition from pagan beliefs to Christianity. Neither pagan nor Christian beliefs are painted as right of wrong, just with the passion of its believers, leaving the reader to their own judgment. The Thrall¿s Tale challenges the reader to think and in the end, leaves them not only informed but enlightened about the period and its people. Can fiction do more than that?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never read such a description narrative in a book before. I felt like I was right there, in Greenland, in the longhouses, in the fjords, on the plains, wearing the clothes, eating the food, smelling the odors....the words are rich, melodic and imaginative and the life of the three main characters and others are so unlike anything I've ever known.....I also recommend purchasing and listening to The Thrall's Tale on cd's, particularly after reading the book. Hearing the Nordic names, places, spoken by the wonderful reader, gave the story even more color and brillance. I appauld the author for producing such a wonderful story and I hope to have the pleasure of reading more from her soon. Bravo!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful historical novel. I can't believe this is a first novel! I'm very impressed! This novel will keep you up late and thinking about long afterwards. There's not enough words to convey how much I've enjoyed this book!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 985 A.D., Eirik Raude is exiled from Iceland he leads a party of his followers to settle in Greenland. Amongst those on the ocean faring journey is Irish catholic Katla, enslaved by Einar when he captured her during a raid. His son Torvard violently rapes her. --- Seeress Thorbjorg buys the battered young woman still wearing her rosary and nurses her back to health enabling Katla to give birth to a daughter, Bibrau. Thorbjorg becomes more of a mother to Bibrau, teaching her all she knows especially of Nordic mysticism. Katla misses her ability to openly practice her religion, which along with the violent way she conceived, lead to her hating her symbolic daughter. Bibrau knows her heritage including how all the other Greenlanders disdain her and how much her mother loathes her she vows to use all that her mentor taught her to avenge all those who scorn her. --- THE THRALL¿S TALE rotates the first person between the lead three females so that readers learn what motivates each one of them in a world where they remain outsiders and anticipate a tragic confrontation. The story line combines a strong look at the Norsemen colonies in Greenland at a time when Christianity is beginning to gain acceptance. It is this deep look at society in flux through the ¿victimized¿ trio that makes Judith Lindbergh¿s fine historical tale soar. --- Harriet Klausner