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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Little Horse

Thorvald Steen

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To purchase The Little Horse

Title: The Little Horse
Author: Thorvald Steen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 201 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Little Horse - US
The Little Horse - UK
The Little Horse - Canada
The Little Horse - India
Le petit cheval - France
  • Norwegian title: Den lille hesten
  • Translated by James Anderson
  • With an Afterword by the author

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Our Assessment:

B : solid little historical novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Svenska Dagbladet . 6/11/2005 Heidi von Born

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mästerligt har han skildrat den store skaldens skrivkramp och hans kärlekslycka under ett av de sista fem dygn han har kvar att leva. (...) Fagrare och grymmare har Island sällan skildrats. (...) Thorvald Steen fångar hans liv utan att förlora en enda nyans av den intensiva brottningsmatchen mellan hårdhet och insikt." - Heidi von Born, Svenska Dagbladet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Little Horse tells the story of Icelandic author and statesman Snorre Sturlason (1179-1241). The novel describes his last five days -- with the conclusion foregone: the second paragraph reads;

     Snorre Sturlason had five days left to live.
       Snorre is at his estate in Reykholt. He has enemies, but then that's always been that way. He feels secure on the estate that he believes to be well-protected. And even should something happen, there is that secret network of tunnels he had built, which (almost) no one knows about.
       Snorre has a difficult relationship with his son Orækja, a simple and gullible but extremely dutiful man whose actions have often caused Snorre trouble. In a world where suspicion is rife and family members often turn on each other, Snorre continues to harbor doubts about a son who is so different from him -- and one he realizes he can no longer control. Snorre can't see that Orækja just wants his approval, and sends him away at the time he would most need him.
       The narrative jumps back and forth between Snorre's past and his last days and hours. Even though readers know he is to be killed, Steen builds up considerable suspense: the attack is large-scale, well-planned, but also cautious and deliberate. Scouts repeatedly make forays for strategic information, and Snorre can sense that all is not right -- without being able to put his finger on what is wrong (until the final showdown). Snorre believes he can rely on his large support staff -- but Reykholt is eerily quiet these last few days.
       Beside his son, Snorre also gets a visit from his longtime lover, the woman he: "wanted to spend the rest of his life with". Margrete visits, but only for one night, stealing away in the morning -- and aware, too, that something bad is in the air.
       Snorre also struggles with writing. Famous for works that have endured to this day, Steen imagines him struggling with his own story:
Was it true that if you lost contact with words, you gradually lost touch with people, too? No. He must write his own saga. It would begin: There was a man called Snorre Sturlason.
       But he can't do it, burning his last writings:
Only now did Snorre realize that he could never manage to complete a single page about himself and his times. Just imagine those unpolished sentences falling into the hands of the wrong people.
       Snorre's bad gamble was an agreement he had made decades earlier with the Norwegian king, promising to help him "incorporate Iceland under the Norwegian crown", and Håkon's rule. Since Snorre hadn't kept up his part of the bargain, he had to go, with Håkon behind his undoing -- utilizing locals who saw their chance to gain advantage by carrying out the deed.
       Steen paints a vivid picture of thirteenth-century Icelandic life -- rough and brutal, with clans laying waste to one another's lands and allegiances that couldn't always be trusted. The last five days, and old man Snorre and his thoughts as he stumbles through them, are atmospheric, with a nice mix of the melancholy and the menacing. The scenes from the past are interesting, though offering what amount to not much more than flashes from Snorre's storied life. Still, there's enough to allow readers to put together a rich picture of life in those times, with Steen using details -- descriptions of the books of those times, or Orækja's hawking, or the furnishings at Reykholt, among much else -- to suggest a great deal.
       Even simple asides effectively suggest the suspicious, dangerous times: "Nobody could be trusted these days. Sturla was dangerously good with words", or: "He looked to be in his mid-twenties. Old enough to be a seasoned traitor".
       With the slightly stilted feel reminiscent of translations of the epics of those times, The Little Horse is a nice little work of historic fiction, plausibly entering into the mind of Snorre Sturlason during his final days, and creatively -- and suspensefully -- spinning out the final plot that led to his fatal downfall.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 February 2017

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The Little Horse: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Thorvald Steen was born in 1954.

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