It’s been a while since I read The Bell in the Lake (which I loved). The Reindeer Hunters is the second in Mytting’s Sister Bells trilogy and I do recommend you read/refresh the opening novel first, mainly because it’s so damn good but also because this next would be hard to navigate without the earlier history of the Stave Church and how it came to be in Dresden and what happened to Astrid and the bells and who were the Henke Sisters…and so on. It is a complicated plot spanning a few generations and secrets.
The reindeer hunter is Jehans, the son of Astrid who died in childbirth in the first book, along with Jehan’s twin brother. He goes from the small and often inaccessible Norwegian village of Butangen up into the mountains with a rubbish old gun to hunt reindeer. If he’s lucky (doesn’t get lost or injured and freeze to death) he will shoot two, one in payment owed on the farm where he stays and the other for food. Over a dead reindeer he meets an English hunter, Victor, and feels an immediate bond. And why does Victor feel so at home in the Norwegian mountains?
We return to the village and Pastor Kai Schweigaard a couple of decades after we left them. The pastor grows on me in this book. Now in 1903 he still has his struggles of faith but is more settled in the village and has plenty to offer, not least to the young Jehens. His attempts at redressing past wrongs send him on a search for the Henke Weave, a lost cloth made by the co-joined twin ancestors of Astrid, and there is always the search for the lost bell, twin of the one that fell in the lake in the last book. Separated twins seem a particular theme for Mytting.
The village is in thrall to major changes, social and industrial, and this history is well described. The old farmers are initially unsure about welcoming electricity, all it seems to do is provide relief for the womenfolk with their butter churning and cream making and they are reluctant to give a woman free time. Who knows what she might do with it? Dairymaid Kristine has a few ideas, she’s a strong young woman they’d do well to listen to, a great example of the female emancipation that changed the world during those first decades of the 20th century. There is a balance between the new and old ways which feels very true. The the old superstitions and habits survive out on the farms, pre-industrial, pre-Christian even. We see this in the pastor’s balance between what the church has taught him, what his people believe and what he feels is true.
Mytting goes just a smidgen too quaint for me when the old wives tales begin to become true, long lost children are recognised on sight (a boy such a spitter of his father he is recognised years later and out of context–only in fiction, right?) and, spookily, a bell begins ringing underwater–apparently this is possible-but happening of its own accord to warn the village of a coming danger? Yes, yes, people love the fantasy stuff and I am a fan of old legends, really, but there must be some alternative rational explanation. Maybe a big fish swam past…
The bell rings for the 1918 flu pandemic, and it tolls for thee, Butangen. Death and sickness pass through the villagers but there are more twins just born on the Henke farm, and I’m guessing Mytting will take us somewhere with them in the last story of this trilogy. I’m so looking forward to it.