Thursday 13 October 2016

Clare Reviews: In the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekbäck

In the Month of the Midnight SunTitle: In the Month of the Midnight Sun
Source: Copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 384
Rating: 4.5/5
Blurb: Stockholm 1856.

Magnus is a geologist. When the Minister sends him to survey the distant but strategically vital Lapland region around Blackasen Mountain, it is a perfect cover for another mission: Magnus must investigate why one of the nomadic Sami people, native to the region, has apparently slaughtered in cold blood a priest, a law officer and a settler in their rectory.
Is there some bigger threat afoot? Blackasen seems to be a place of many secrets.
But the Minister has more than a professional tie to Magnus, and at the last moment, he adds another responsibility. Disgusted by the wayward behaviour of his daughter Lovisa - Magnus's sister-in law - the Minister demands that Magnus take her with him on his arduous journey.
Thus the two unlikely companions must venture out of the sophisticated city, up the coast and across country, to the rough-hewn religion and politics of the settler communities, the mystical, pre-Christian ways of the people who have always lived on this land, and the strange, compelling light of the midnight sun.
For Lovisa and Magnus, nothing can ever be the same again.

Last year Wolf Winter was a book I hardly knew how to categorise. It wasn't a book I necessarily enjoyed but it stayed with me long after I was finished reading. So when I saw In the Month of the Midnight Sun I knew I had to read it.

In many ways this is the one I prefer of the two. In the Month of the Midnight Sun keeps the overawing presence of the mountain but moves the timeline forwards around 130 years. So we have the same setting but all new characters and all new societal rules. Before reading Wolf Winter and In the Month of the Midnight Sun I knew next to nothing about the history of the Lapps or Sweden and so both books proved educational for me. However there is no info-dumping and I felt absorbed into the world very easily.

The writing of In the Month of the Midnight Sun was easy to read and I read it much faster than I had anticipated. The book is divided into three sections and each section had its own distinct feeling. The first section felt more historical in nature whereas from the second section onwards there was a mystical element that, surprisingly, worked really well into the plot. The final section was, perhaps, the most tense. After the big reveal at the end of the second part I wasn't sure where the book could possibly go. What could be more horrifying than that? But there was a tension to the ending of the book that kept ramping up right to the kind-of-cliff-hanger of the last page. I am not usually a fan of cliff-hangers but here it definitely worked and I know I will be thinking about that ending for a long time.

As well as three sections there are also three different narrators. They all have very distinct voices and of the three I would say Magnus was my favourite. He comes across as the most rigidly factual and the most sensible and so there is a reassurance to his voice in amidst all the tension and drama happening around him. He strikes me as definitely the sort of person you want with you in a crisis. Lovisa, meanwhile, took a while to grow on me. At the beginning she can be very selfish and wilful and I definitely agreed with many of the things Magnus said to her. But as a character she also had the most growth as the book progressed and is the character I would most like to see more of. Finally we have Biija, an elderly Lapp woman who has secrets of her own that unravel as the book progresses. She, like Magnus, had a fairly comforting voice but, due to her secrets, her chapters also contained a lot of menace.

The plot was excellent, it starts with a dramatic event - the murder of three men by a Lapp and then the remainder of the book is Magnus, with the help of Lovisa and Biija, attempting to unravel why this happened. It isn't just a detective novel however. With the natural menacing presence of the mountain and the secretive nature of the inhabitants there is a definite thriller aspect to the novel that I really enjoyed. I was along for the ride and almost every reveal took me by surprise. I was kept guessing right up to the last page, and even beyond, and now I am desperate for more.

Overall I think this book shows amazing growth in Cecilia Ekback's writing and I am very excited to see what she writes next. The characters, setting and plot all combined to produce a book I won't be able to forget and an ending I will be thinking about for a while. 

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