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NORDIC BOOK REVIEW: Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s ‘The Prey’

The Icelandic terrain is harsh, especially in the dead of winter; the components working together to confuse the unwary traveller. The cold climate serves as the backdrop for Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Prey, while the terror and fear contained within the pages create enough chills on their own.

Sigurdardottir’s fascinating story takes readers through what appear to be three independent plot arcs in three different historical periods at first. Those arcs, however, soon intersect into a bigger, darker plot, as they do in all good thrillers.

Two brothers uncover snippets of a sister they had no idea existed, her brief life and mysterious death obliterated as a tragic chapter in their family history. A group of friendstravels into the freezing tundra to a lonely home that hides a sinister secret. A search and rescue worker is being tormented by strange figures lurking in the dark, while a man working at a NATO listening post is receiving phone calls from a disconnected phone in the dark.

Darkness is an important character in this story. Is it the long Icelandic winter nights playing games on the mind, or is something more sinister waiting in the shadows? The actual dread begins when the schemes evolve and begin to merge, and as eerie whispers carry on the snow-laden wind, the temperature drops. Is it supernatural forces at work or something more human? Whatever the case, danger lurks on every page.

Sigurdardottir’s storyline is precisely tuned and paced (in a compelling translation by Victoria Cribb). Morsels of detail are teased, like in any good horror thriller, but much is left to the reader’s imagination. The writing is superb, with actual jump moments that frighten the reader – this is not a novel to read late at night! The danger becomes more tangible as the narratives converge, the ice-cold chills increase, and there’s a sense of impending disaster on each page.

However, as in any good thriller, there are enough narrative twists to keep the reader guessing until the last pages, how are these stories all connected, and what is the evil hiding out there in the dark?

The language has a beautifully cinematic feel to it, painting evocative images of the harshness of an Icelandic winter against an intimate struggle of human existence; it’s a narrative and story that would work just as well on film as it does on paper.

The Prey is one of those books where the reader is both compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next and terrified to do so. Instilling conflict in the reader is a sign of a writer at the top of their game, and Sigurdardottir manages to weave that complexity into a brilliantly reading, yet horrifying, thriller.

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