The Sea Road

by Margaret Elphinstone

Reviewed by Annis

Criss-crossing the oceans of time and memory, The Sea Road tells the remarkable saga of Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, an engaging and intrepid Viking woman whose eleventh-century voyages across the North Atlantic take her far beyond the boundaries of the known world.

"My story begins in a place that is all water and shadow, where colours melt and change, a place of space and cleanliness, a long way north of here and lost forever to the past." Born in Iceland, Gudrid grows up strong and self-reliant in an unforgiving land of harsh beauty inhabited by elven-folk, plagued by violent blood-feuds and haunted by the ghosts of the dead. Although baptised a Christian, she has the uncanny gifts of a Norse witch. The old gods won’t let her go without a struggle.

"The sea is the only road out of Iceland", and over the years Gudrid learns its capricious nature all too well as she sails back and forth from Iceland to Greenland, Norway and even Rome. With her husband Karlsefni she journeys far west to North America, bearing her first child in mysterious Vinland. "The heart of Vinland is another world. It’s not heaven or hel. But it’s alien. Separate. Alfheim, perhaps. I wonder if we were ever meant to be here."

Spare, luminous prose gives The Sea Road vivid immediacy with an otherwordly shimmer, like the distant silvery light of the open northern seas. Gudrid is a Shaper, a storyteller with the power to shift reality so we can experience from an intimate and uniquely female perspective a world as alien to us as her Vinland. She spins her lifelong voyages of discovery - physical, psychological and spiritual - into a richly detailed tapestry woven on the loom of fate, full of marvels, terror, happiness, hardship and larger-than-life personalities. "Stories have a life of their own. They grow as children grow…. If you write down a person’s story, there is a way in which it becomes your own". (2000, 244 pages)

More about The Sea Road at Powell's Books or

Other novels about Viking expeditions to Vinland:

Meadowland by Thomas Holt (2005), a dark adventure featuring a voyage to Vinland made by Gudrid’s much nastier sister-in-law, Freydis. More info

The Ice-Shirt by William Vollman (1990), about the rivalry of Freydis and Gudrid and the conflicts between the Norse settlers in Vinland and the native people. More info

An Old Captivity by Nevil Shute (1940), about a twentieth-century pilot who travels to Greenland with an archaeological expedition and dreams of a past life as a Celtic slave belonging to Leif Ericson, the Norse discoverer of Vinland. More info

Nonfiction about Viking women and the expeditions to Vinland:

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown (2008). More info

Women in Old Norse Society by Jenny Jochens (1998). More info

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga by William F. Fitzhugh (2000). More info


Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir at the Norwegian Society of Texas website

The Vinland Mystery, a documentary at YouTube

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