The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson, is a Swedish middle grade fantasy from Gecko Press (August 2017)  that will appeal to those who enjoy stories about plucky girls setting off alone on worthy quests.  It has tons of atmosphere, memorable characters and encounters, and is thought provoking to boot!

Ten-year-old Siri and her little sister Miki live with their old and somewhat ineffectual, though kind, father on a remote island far up in the North Atlantic. Even on their island they've heard of Captain Whitehead, the most dreaded pirate of them all, who steals children to work in his diamond mine.  But Siri isn't thinking about the pirate when she lets her sister pick snowberries alone....and the Miki is kidnapped.  Blaming herself, Siri knows she can't rest until her sister is home again and there is no one else able or willing to do the job.

Of course, Siri might be willing, but the able part is questionable.  There's the matter of finding the island with the mine on it  (involving perilous journeys through an icy sea, a diversion when she finds herself alone on an island looking after a mer-child, and almost freezing to death on several occasions.  And then once she finds the mine, there are of course challenges to overthrowing the control of Captain Whitehead and saving everybody.  She could never have done it alone, but fortunately she finds help in unexpected places...

What made this one rather refreshing is that Siri is not so plucky as to be unbelievable.  She is allowed to cry, and does so with good reason fairly often.  You don't often see kids off on heroic quests thinking about how awful everything is and breaking down.  And I don't think it makes her a weaker character at all, just a realistic ten year old n dire straits.  Another interesting thing is that several of the people she meets along the way are neither good nor bad, but with both entwined--"goodness" often has a smattering of cruelty to it, and questions of responsibility are raised in a somewhat more overt way than I'm used to.  Even Captain Whitebeard didn't set up his diamond mine for evil purposes....though of course it became evil in the end.

There are bits that made me chuckle, and bits that made beautifully clear pictures in my mind's eye.  I'm not personally a fan of pirate adventures in frozen waters, but I enjoyed this one. It is perhaps slow to start, and there's not sustained action following hard on action, so it might not be to the taste of those who want excitement on just about every page, which could be I myself enjoyed it....It's the first contemporary Swedish middle grade fantasy I think I've ever read....I'd like to read more!

Here's something a New Zealand reviewer said about this book that I never would -- "The smell of fish is ever present in the written text...."  Although the review meant well, it just not fair to the book.  Though there are a lot of dead fish what with one thing and another, I did not smell any.  That being said, I do not in general read with my nose, unless there is chocolate...

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.


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