The Sea of Trolls


Nancy Farmer


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

May 30, 2021

read The Sea of Trolls because I had just finished Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion, which I enjoyed. The Sea of Trolls appears to be Farmer's second-most famous novel, so I assumed it would compare favorably to The House of the Scorpion. The two are very different novels, but both are grim and surprisingly bloody (considering that they are classified as Young Adult) stories. But unlike the unrelenting darkness of The House of the Scorpion, The Sea of Trolls does have moments of joy and wonder and brightness.

The Sea of Trolls is the story of Jack, an eleven year old boy living in England in 793 A.D. The local bard has taken Jack as an apprentice, teaching him to understand and control the life force that flows through the world. The lessons are simple at first; Jack is impatient to learn how to do more powerful magic. It turns out that the bard is named Dragon Tongue, and he is in England because he fled from the court of Ivan the Boneless, a king of the Northmen. Ivar had acquired a new wife, Frith, who is a dangerous, shape-shifting half-troll. The bard is afraid to even mention Frith's name, lest she magically hear him speak and send her berserkers to capture him.

One day, word comes that a ship of berserkers has been spotted. The villagers want to arm themselves to fight, but the Bard advises them to flee. He and Jack will raise a dense fog to confuse the Northmen and hopefully drive them away. The plan works - Jack is controlling the dense fog when a band of Northmen come striding down the road. The marauders are about to turn back, when Lucy, who is Jack's young sister, calls out in delight to the Northmen. Lucy imagines that the armed men are knights coming to take her away to a castle. Jack and Lucy are captured, and a grave fate awaits them - they will be sold into slavery to the Picts. Jack is desperate not to be separated from his sister, so he tells the captain of the Northmen, a giant of a man named Olaf, that he is a bard with great abilities. Jack's plan works, Olaf does not sell him nor Lucy, but instead keeps them as captives as the ship of raiders sails back across the seas to their homeland. It turns out Olaf serves none other than Ivar the Boneless! Maybe slavery would have been a better fate.

For a young adult novel, this has a surprising amount of violence. The Northmen are ruthless raiders; before they attack a village, they consume a potent mixture that turns them into berserkers - the drink converts the Northmen into reckless warriors with no thoughts of self-preservation. A berserkers only goal is to die with a sword in hand, with fame as a great warrior, so that they might be called by Odin to sit at his great dining hall in Valhalla. Jack thinks Olaf and his crew are crazy. Why not live a life of peacefulness and joy? Olaf cannot fathom how Jack thinks, what could be better than falling in a great battle, so that eternal fame is yours?

Because this novel features a young protagonist in the Dark Ages of Europe who must confront magical trolls, it seems similar to another excellent Young Adult novel East by Edith Pattou, which also features a determined youngster who must journey to the kingdom of magic-using trolls. If you enjoy The Sea of Trolls, consider checking out East. I must seek out book two of Jack's adventures, which continue in The Land of Silver Apples.