The Axe by Sigrid Undset (The Master of Hestviken)

Betrothed as children, Olav and Ingunn grew up together, but when Ingunn’s parents die, they take an irrevocable step that jeopardizes their futures and the social system that surrounds them.

The Axe begins a 4-book series by Sigrid Undset, the Nobel Prize-winning author of the acclaimed and beloved Kristin Lavransdatter books.

Like that series, The Axe concerns itself heavily with matters of sexual morality and the toxic nature of secret sin, only this time we get the man’s perspective as well. Olav isn’t quite the ravishing seducer that Kristin’s Erlend was, but his seduction of Ingunn is no less rapacious, and the act twists and bends him towards other sins. And Ingunn is no paragon of virtue herself–Undset doesn’t stint on portraying her weaknesses, though in such a way as to make her totally sympathetic and relatable.

Undset really knows how to tell a gripping story. The historical detail never overwhelms the plot, and the characters are as complex as they come. My only criticism is that Tiina Nunnally didn’t do the translation. This one has some archaisms that interrupt the flow of the story, but honestly this is a very minor issue.

And I was pleased to learn, via Lars Walker, that yesterday, May 20, was Sigrid Undset’s birthday. I was so pleased to find I was reading one of her books in celebration of one of my favorite authors.

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