Welcome to the world where the ancient myths of the North are all true. Where a house-elf can save your life when a bewitched bear attacks or an otherworldly, beautiful dryad can seduce you by the open fire in the middle of an ancient forest. The family of Juko Rautaparta lives in the midst of this all and more and tries to survive in the harsh and unrelenting nature.
Author: Mikko Kamula
Publisher: Gummerus 2017, Finland
Category: Fantasy / Historical fiction
Original language: Finnish
HelMet Reading Challenge 2017: number 5. A book about travelling in the wild.
Mikko Kamula is a researcher of history and folkloristics. He studied the ancient beliefs of the Finns for 15 years before writing the first book in this to-be a six parts long novel series. And Kamula has definitely nailed it.
Contrary to usual fantasy novels, this one doesn’t have a clear-cut plot or a quest structure. But it doesn’t matter. The life of the Rautaparta family is so fascinating, it keeps the reader hooked. Three characters are brought forward as the MCs: oldest son Heiska (17 years old), daughter Varpu (15 years old) and youngest son Tenho (10 years old). This trio leads the reader through the everyday life of the 15th century Finnish people as it was in the frontier lands of the eastern Finland.
It is a wild life and it is very much governed by the faith in the mythological creatures of the nature. In the novel these creatures are the living reality, just as they must have been for the people of that era.
But besides mythology, the life takes its turns because of other humans too. There are several competing tribes, and when they tumble into each other in the wilderness, the results can be fatal. The young MCs are also beginning to long for romantic partners, albeit the chances to find peers in the wilderness are very limited.
Kamula has joined together in an interesting way the myths of the time, the hard life in the untamed wilderness, the simple standards of living back then and the MCs, who are relatable to the modern reader, despite their circumstances. In another book review published in a Finnish newspaper, the reviewer remarked that the MCs talk and think too much like modern people.
I think this choice has been a good one. A speech and thinking set that would be completely faithful to the period, would be too strange to the modern reader to be interesting or enjoyable. It would downright make the dialogue incomprehensible for many – how easy it is to figure out the speech patterns of Kalevala?
Thus, as it is, the novel is a mixture of fantasy and historical fiction, true in its facts and imaginary in its characters, just in the way a great fiction should be. This series will absolutely be a fantastic way to understand what everyday life was like for our ancestors in a time, when nobody wrote a diary and it does it in a way that will take the reader flying through the almost 700 pages without noticing the time passing – and end up craving more.
“What if the ancient myths of dryads, goblins, giants, witches and shamans were true?
Ikimetsiern sydänmailla / In the heart of the Ancient Forests starts the Metsän kansa (the People of the Forest) series, that tells about the pioneer family of Juko Rautaparta in the 15th century Savo (eastern Finland). Heiska dreams of heroic deeds as a hunter. Varpu is fed up with the everyday chores and can’t wait to get to the Ukon Vakkajuhlat, the mysterious midsummer festival in the honour of Ukko, the chief god. Tenho is interested in the spells of the shamans and the fantastic creatures of the forest.
The life of the family changes completely, when a bear, bewitched by a Lappish shaman, attacks them. The house-elf protects its own people, but the bear still manages to take the new born daughter, Mielo. Juko Rautaparta swears revenge.
Mikko Kamula’s debut novel combines real historical facts and ancient folklore. Myths and beliefs are revived in a novel in the borderline of the fantasy and historical fiction.”