Litstack Recs | The UnAmericans & All the Horses of Iceland
All the Horses of Iceland, by Sarah Tolmie
Not legend, not myth, not history, nor fantasy – but a bit of all of them. At its barest, this slim novella is the recounting from an ancient manuscript of how horses came to Iceland. At its heart, it is an epic tale of a journey through strange lands in the guise of an Icelandic saga.
But it presents itself as a beautifully sparse and poetic tale of Eyvind of Eyri, a trader who journeys through Rus and Khazaria to the grassy steppes of Mongolia with the intention of bringing wild horses to Iceland – hardy stock who could perhaps withstand the harshness of his native land. He joins in with a group of Khazars (after leaving his original merchant party after refusing to renounce his paganism and convert to Christianity) on a perilous journey through a warring land.
Along the way he finds himself enmeshed in tribal politics, seeking understanding of other cultures and religions and experiencing the semi-mystical, including inheriting the ghost of a magician’s daughter which manifests through the presence of a beautiful white horse at times only seen by Eyvind, a horse known merely as the Mare with No Name. His journey is harrowing and quite perilous, but still lilting and full of a stoic mysticism.
Amal El-Mohtar, writer of speculative fiction including the superlative collaboration This is How You Lose the Time War, wrote of All the Horses of Iceland, “(Author) Tolmie — both a medievalist and professed horse person — brings a scholarly precision to her fantasy that makes magic mundane and the mundane utterly sublime.” This is quite true. Slow-moving yet powerful in its simplicity and lack of posturing, All the Horses of Iceland feels pure, unburdened. History it may not be, nor myth or legend, but after reading it, you feel like you have learned something deep in your bones, that transcends a mere origin story.