Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson

ShadowsoftheShadows of the Short Days is a difficult book for me to review.  It contains so much promise, is packed with vibrant imagery and magic, myths and folklore not to mention horror and yet I really struggled to get through it, which I think in the main part boils down to the fact that I didn’t really like the two central characters plus I think it was maybe a little too brutal.

So, how to describe SotSD.  Well, at its core it’s about revolution.  Here we have an alternate Reykjavik where magic and industry combine, where graffiti carries subliminal messages if painted with the correct ingredients and where prejudice runs rife.  Sæmundur is literally the mad scientist of the piece.  Expelled from University because of his radical ideas concerning magic, he’s a sorcerer on the edge.  Fuelled by drugs and his own sense of self importance he is determined to show the world his brilliance – no matter what the cost.  Garún, ex girlfriend to Sæmundur, uses magic to infuse her art and graffiti with messages in the hope of inspiring an uprising.  Garún has been oppressed her entire life for reasons completely outside her own control.  She is half human and half-huldufólk (hidden folk) which means she is accepted by neither.  The two of them will become the catalyst for violent change.

I have to confess that, even though this didn’t work it’s magic on me, there are some exceptional scenes in this book.  It’s truly a work of breathtaking creativity and a number of the chapters where we look at the past are really well crafted and downright enjoyable to read.  The seedy underbelly of the city and the underworld, accessed via unusual hidden portals are all brilliantly imagined and coupled with the very real tension that the author manages to create just gives the whole place an incredible sense of danger.

In fact, even at this point I find myself still thinking about this book, the strange sense of place and the underlying political messages.  To me, a book that makes me think about it after I’ve put it down has to be applauded, but at the same time this isn’t a book that I can say I enjoyed, and at the back of my mind there’s almost a niggling feeling that perhaps this shouldn’t be a book that you can say you enjoyed.  The oppression and sense of wrong together with all the hate that simply pours off the central characters all lead to a very dark and disturbing read yet at the same time one that demands attention and can’t be ignored even when put down.

In terms of my criticisms.  Well, in some respects I’m going to admit that this is probably more an example of ‘it’s me not you’.  This is simply too grim for my own tastes, and the horror is a little too near the knuckle – the sort that makes me squirm uncomfortably – also be aware that there is one particular scene that contains animal torture – so be warned.  Plus, as I mentioned above, both the MCs are difficult to like.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a good deal of sympathy for Garún and I can see why she’s consumed with such uncontrollable anger, but at the same time she’s so completely self absorbed that she really isn’t capable of making good or rational decisions, she wants change no matter how many people have to suffer in order to achieve it.  Sæmundur, well, he’s in a whole other class of unlikable, I don’t even want to think about him long enough to number them in this review.

Strange, surreal, violent, dark, disturbing, brilliant – I could reasonably apply all these words to this book.  If you like a good dose of weird and you’re not averse to grim horror then I certainly don’t want to dissuade you from picking this up – even though it was a little too much for me.

Rating 3 stars of 5

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


13 Responses to “Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Funny, I literally just added this book to my TBR a couple days ago after hearing about it for the first time and thinking that it sounded interesting. I still might check it out, though I’ll prepare myself now that I know it’s a bit strange 😛

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    “Dark and weird” can indeed be an intriguing combination, even with not-sot-likable main characters, but what I seem to perceive from your words is a lack of hope in so much darkness, and maybe this is one of the reasons this story did not work for you – because no matter how terrible the background, we DO need a glimmer of hope to make it through…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s a shame about this one and it’s obviously just a ‘me’ thing, it was definitely too dark for my tastes but I imagine others will like to more.
      Lynn 😀

  3. imyril

    You’re not alone – I was a DNF on this one. It was highly anticipated and I love the Icelandic setting, but I couldn’t bear Saemundur. Garún was hard work but her world was intriguing; Saemundur just made my skin crawl. And that was before his trip to the university library – that just put the nail in the coffin for me.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I loved the setting too but Saemundur!! Dear God he did my head in and I’m sorry to say he only gets worse after the library – if you can believe it.
      Lynn 😀

      • imyril

        Sadly I can. I’m glad I tapped out 😉

      • @lynnsbooks

        Mmm, it was probably a wise move. I feel bad about not loving this – it had such a great premise, there is a mass of cool ideas, the setting is ace I liked the whole revolution and even the fact that it veers into horror but I couldn’t get past certain things.
        Lynn 😀

  4. Weekly Wrap Up : 4th August 2019 | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson […]

  5. waytoofantasy

    Definitely sounds like one not for me, but fantastic review. Sometimes books present us with a dichotomy lol!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, shame about this one – I really expected to love it but the main character was my main bug bear I think.
      Lynn 😀

  6. LizScanlon

    Brilliant review.. I struggled writing down my thoughts for days after finishing… but eventually I think I had stood away from the story long enough to make some sense of what I actually thought… For me, the overly descriptive scenes just overook too much- the clubbing, drinking of beer, walking here and there – super great for atmosphere but for me, a bit toooo much and ended up slowing the pace… ah well, nonetheless- this is one of the most unique books and a hard to forget one 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s definitely unique. It’s a shame it didn’t work better for me, I really expected to love it – maybe my expectations were a bit off going into the read. Like you say as well, the descriptive scenes were a bit too much and definitely slowed the pace and the characters – they didn’t wow me.
      Lynn 😀

  7. Best of the Best list : 2019 | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson […]

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