Subtle Excellence: The Tricking of Freya Skip to content

Subtle Excellence: The Tricking of Freya

First when I heard of Christina Sunley’s debut The Tricking of Freya I thought it was some wishy-washy mystical tale loosely based on Norse mythology, Icelandic sagas and unrealistic stereotypes of Vikings. An unfair assessment, perhaps, but I have read—or tried to read but given up on—such American books before.

I gave Sunley the benefit of a doubt, though, because she actually has a real connection with Iceland, being of Icelandic descent and growing up listening to stories from Iceland.

Already after reading the first page I realized that The Tricking of Freya is a completely different kind of book than I had assumed.

The main protagonist Freya is not the goddess Freya, but simply an American girl whose grandparents migrated from Iceland to North America.

Freya grows up with her elderly and sensible mother in a quiet suburb in Connecticut and spends her summers with her grandmother and aunt in Gimli, New Iceland, Canada.

While her mother isn’t especially efficient in passing her Icelandic heritage on to her, Freya’s spinster aunt eagerly teaches her all about her Icelandic origin.

So far the storyline seems pretty straightforward and uneventful, Freya’s life easygoing and harmonious. However, her beloved aunt, Ingibjörg, or Birdie, is exceptionally moody and her violent mood swings both enrich and darken the lives of her family.

Then a fateful accident drastically changes the life of the young Freya from a cheerful, playful kid to a plain, obedient adolescent, whose primary goal in life is to please others.

Yet, after suppressing her own desires for years, Freya lets her aunt convince her to join her on a wild and fateful adventure to the home country.

The Tricking of Freya is primarily a story of broken relationships and family secrets. It is also a story of the conflict immigrant families often experience between preserving their roots and cultural heritage and adapting to their new home.

The stage could have been set within any immigrant community but Sunley chose her own, spicing it up with references to Norse mythology and Icelandic sagas.

Although Freya is a girl but not a goddess, the goddess Freyja does play an important part in the plot as do other aspects of Norse mythology.

The title of the book is a reference to The Tricking of Gylfi, or Gylfaginning, the first part of the Prose Edda, an important mediaeval source of Norse mythology.

It tells the tale of King Gylfi of Sweden journeys to Ásgardur as the wanderer Gangleri to learn about the secrets of Aesir, the gods.

He poses questions to three kings, unaware that they are a cover that Ódinn, the highest of the gods, has created, because he knew of Gylfi’s intention all along.

And so it is Gylfi who is tricked. As is Freya in Sunley’s book. The connection between the two stories is brilliant in its subtleness.

The setting becomes very realistic in Sunley’s description, never once appearing pretentious. She obviously knows what she is talking about and has done extensive research to back up her storyline.

However, as I tend to be fussy about details, it bothered me that the book wasn’t proofread by a native Icelander—not thoroughly enough, at least. Sunley uses many Icelandic phrases in dialogues, which are correct almost without exception.

But there were a few examples which ruined the overall professional feeling of the book.

In Iceland the roads are often so narrow that they only fit one car at a time. When such a road leads across a hill and you can’t see if there’s a car on the opposite side it is called a blindhaed (“blind hill”).

Sunley confused the word haed with a similar Icelandic word, heidi, which means heath or mountain pass, and called the phenomenon blind heid in her book.

A minor detail, I know, but it bothered me all the same and I assume the same applies to most other Icelandic-speaking readers.

I would have let it slide if there weren’t other inaccuracies of the same nature, mostly towards the end.

The female version of snjall (“clever”) is snjöll, not snjal. The patronym Jóhannsson is spelled with two s-es, not one, and if someone’s father is called Úlfur his surname is Úlfsson, not Úlfurson.

Also, based on how the plot was unraveling, I had expected a more explosive ending. I thought Sunley would go all the way with the Norse mythology comparison and give Freya a fate more similar to that of her goddess namesake’s. Not have it take over the story, just follow it through.

Nevertheless, The Tricking of Freya was a pleasantly surprising read. I enjoyed every page of it. The characters were interesting, I love it how Sunley managed to weave some Icelandicness into the plot without making it dominant and it was interesting to learn more about the Icelandic settlements in North America.

For a debut, The Tricking of Freya is excellent. I can only encourage Sunley to write more and I’m looking forward to what she comes up with next.

The book is available on

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get news from Iceland, photos, and in-depth stories delivered to your inbox every week!

* indicates required

Subscribe to Iceland Review

In-depth stories and high-quality photography showcasing life in Iceland!

Share article