It’s easy to be a sucker for fun, memey marketing. Any opportunity for irony instantly draws me in and lights up the dark corners of my irreverent brain. When I initially saw All The Horses of Iceland, by Sarah Tolmie, I was slightly interested based on its premise. However, I was sucker punched by the marketing of it’s epic chonky horse bois, and this short tale would soon fulfill my innate desire to be a horse girl.
Eyvind’s world is changing. Christianity (not, unfortunately, horses) has taken hold amongst the more influential leaders of his northern home. Some are believers, while others seek an opportunity for power, leaving Eyvind with little choice to leave the slowly developing monoculture. He chooses to travel the lands of central Asia, wandering the outskirts of the ancient land of Rus with Jewish traders. Along the way, he discovers unknown ties to magic, and encounters the herd that he hopes to bring back to Iceland.
All The Horses of Iceland is a bit weird, and incredibly dense for it’s page count. After the initial shock of the lack of “chonk bois” as a real term in the book, I settled into the charming cadence of Tolmie’s writing. It’s not an inherently warm form of storytelling, but I was drawn in as Eyvind journeyed deeper into the vibrant world of 8-900 C.E. eastern Europe and Asia. Modern day nation-states do not exist, their names are yet to be born. Everything feels just as new, strange, and exciting to the reader as it does to Eyvind. We are learning the rules of this world as he is, gaining insights into the constantly shifting landscapes of Eurasia. I particularly enjoyed this lack of grounding, as it forced me to exist in this surreal version of Earth’s past.
It’s also not told with a modern sensibility. Deep internal thoughts that naturally ingrain one to character are not here. Instead, it’s a fairly straightforward narration of events, the people that populate them, and the geographies they exist within. It has a mythicality to its historical quality as supernatural events sweep in and out of these small lives. Big events are always in the distance, but their tentacles reach out and interfere with Eyvind’s journey several times.
You might lament the dearth of horses until the halfway point, but for me it made their reveal only more earned. It feels less like a journey specifically about getting horses, and more about finding their inner qualities. While they would materially benefit Eyvind upon his return home, he develops a loyalty to them that strengthens their spiritual quality. This paired with a journey about the strength of difference within a world coalescing around more centralized “states” made it a worthwhile read.
While I went in with a detached sense of irony, I finished Tolmie’s short saga with a deep appreciation for her writing and storytelling. Tolmie clearly understands the form she is trying to portray, and in her acknowledgements makes nods to the changes she made and the history she tries to highlight. It even got me to look up what was interesting about the horses actually in Iceland. All in all, I’m glad I read it, and I hope others take a step back to enjoy All the Horses of Iceland for what it is, a historical Norse love letter to those epic chonky bois.
Rating: All The Horses of Iceland 7.5/10
-Your Long Faced Friend of Friendly Long Faces, Alex
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.