In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.
Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?
This book was recommended to me by a librarian. When I first started reading it, I felt way out of my comfort zone. I usually read books set in modern times, and I tend to gravitate more towards books that have a more predictable story line and ending. This book took me in a completely new direction. Hannah’s way with words really allowed me to connect with the characters, and lead me into the world within the book.
Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to execution for playing a role in the brutal murder of two men. She is sent to a farm to await execution. While at this farm, we learn about Agnes’ life, but we also get to know a but about the family she lives with, as well as a priest who visits her. Although there are several characters, the book focuses mostly on Agnes. Each character plays their role, and the way Hannah has written each character’s narrative allows us to gauge the importance of them in the book.
The book’s transition between first-person (Agnes) and third-person perspectives is fantastic. I never felt confused as to which character we were following, as it is always clear – the perspective doesn’t shift within paragraphs. We also get to know each character a little bit, and that really drew me into the story.
Hannah’s style of writing really drew me in. I felt like I was right there, amongst the characters, and experiencing their lives. I could feel the snow on my feet, the smoke in my lungs, the taste of blood on my tongue. It’s very rare that a book can lead to activating my senses. Even as I write this, I can still taste the metallic taste of blood as I think about the book.
This book is not usually a book I would choose myself to read – I tend to stick to my comfort zone. However, I am really glad that I read this novel. It is one of the books that will stay with me for a long time.