3 out of 4 stars
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Black Beach, by Olivia Rana, tells the story of Frida, an Icelandic woman who can see Huldufólk - “hidden people”. The story moves between 1953 (when Frida is a child discovering her abilities) and 2021 (where Frida is a seventy-seven-year-old woman living in a rest home). The story kicks off when Frida decides to run away from the rest home in order to help the Huldufolk protect their homes from being destroyed by developers. She does this with the help of her Huldufólk friend Paulina.
Alda, Frida’s adult daughter (who initially does not know what to think of her mother’s supposed abilities) becomes entwined in Frida’s quest to save the Huldufolk. And so begins a mother-daughter-and-Huldulfolk adventure quite unlike any other I have read.
This is a tale that will stay with me for a while. I’m going to miss the characters as well as the daily dose of Icelandic culture. It is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy, is curious about Icelandic culture, or who enjoys folklore. That being said, if you like fast-paced stories that keep you hooked every step of the way, this might not be the story for you. Black Beach draws you in slowly but the characters of the story are warm and intriguing. It brings with it a sense of wholesome childhood magic that is difficult to effectively achieve in a story designed for adults. And adults, be aware: this is a story aimed at adults. There is the very occasional swear word and adult theme.
Rana approaches the story with craft and sensitivity, so much so that I found myself tearing up a little by the end of the book (you will understand why when you read it). The relationships within the story are what really make it a success. What is also intriguing is that there are elements of truth to the story: Rana traveled to Vík, where the story is set, and interviewed many of its residents about their cultural and societal background. She also worked with Icelandic seer and environmentalist Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir to develop the story.
There is a little something for everyone in this book - family drama, romance, folklore, history, and culture. I loved the characters and the interwoven storylines - the only thing that needed improvement was the proofreading. A few minor grammatical errors had been overlooked throughout the book. For this reason, I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars.
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