I bought Hailstone Mountain with the idea of reading and reviewing it shortly after it came out. Alas, time conspired against me. I started reading it quickly, but kept getting called away. Then I would forget about it for days or weeks at a time while other matters pressed on my time.
Some may read that and conclude it wasn’t a good book. On the contrary, it was very well done. I am left thinking that I needed to read it at this time and not earlier. When I sat down to read it, I tore through pages as event after event rushed past.
It is written well. There are hints and foreshadowing in the early parts of the book that pay off later. An almost offhand discussion between the two principle characters of Lord Eerling and Father Aillil turns out to be a Chekov’s Gun.
If you have read the prior books in Eerling’s Saga, you will recognize these two men. They have grown in their life and influence but are still people with flaws and struggles. At times I want to shake Aillil because he keeps flirting with the edges of his faith in bad ways. He isn’t as bad as in the first book when he wasn’t even a believer (but impersonating a priest), but I really thought he had learned a lesson in West Overseas.
Lord Eerling was a historical lord of Norway, and one of the first openly Christian. In this book, he has a feud going with Jarl Svein, a man who outranks him in title but seems to have less power. Eerling’s people are more devoted to him. Svein and Eerling would be great friends and allies if not for one thing: Svein sided against Eerling’s brother-in-law Olaf in the war where Olaf died.
Several of Walker’s book have reminded me of CS Lewis in one way or another. Troll Valley made me think of Til We Have Faces. In Hailstone Mountain, The Silver Chair came to mind the most. The heroes’ quest takes them to a kingdom below the sruface of the earth. One of the inhabitants from there asks if the sun is real. When Aillil tries to explain it, the boy refuses to believe saying along the lines of “you saw a lamp and just imagine a bigger lamp.”
For Eerling fans this book has another treat. Throughout the series, Lemming has been involved yet little is known about his past. He has a niece, Freydis, whom he protects like none other. Lemming rarely speaks and has no friends. Often I have wondered what made Lemming how he is. This book tells Lemming’s story! I won’t spoil any of it, but I will say it left me both liking Lemming more and feeling sorry for him.
The strongest theme I saw was honor and duty in a person’s life. Duty means doing what needs to be done whether you like it or not. Especially if you like it not. The book revolves around honor. Men go to great lengths to gain or keep honor. Things they will not do for themselves, they do to help others. Men they would otherwise befriend they may not because of differences in spirit or blood. When people do their duty to God, the right things happen. When they forget, they and all those who serve under them suffer.
Doing your duty may mean casualties. Duty may mean being hurt yourself, but there are things in life worth dying for. Duty is not often pleasant, but it ends well (ultimately).
This book is highly recommended.