Plot[ edit ] When Arne married the superstitious Eugenia, he agreed to have seven children with her—one for each point of the compass, excluding north. Years before, Eugenia was told by a skjebne-soke a fortune teller that any north child she had would die crushed beneath an avalanche of ice and snow, reinforcing her desire to never have a pure northern child. Her favorite child, east-born Elise, dies young and Eugenia conceives another child to replace her, Rose. While pregnant with Rose, Eugenia is adamant that her unborn child will be an east-born, so much so that her very non-superstitious husband worries that she is tempting fate. Rose feels out of place in her family, despite her love for them and her home; she can never live up to the standard set by her dead sister Elise, and is consumed by un-east-like wanderlust and desire for adventure.
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It was large, the size of a footlocker, and there were markings on it; runes, I learned later. When I opened the lid, it looked like the box contained mostly papers, a jumbled mass of them, in several different languages and written in different styles of handwriting.
As I dug deeper, under the papers, I found more: skeins of wool; small boots made of soft leather; sheaves of music tied with faded ribbon; long, thin pieces of wood with maplike markings on them; dried-up mushrooms; woven belts; even a dress the color of the moon. Then I came upon what looked to be the mouthpiece of a very old reed instrument. I held it up toward the light coming through the small attic window.
As the late afternoon sun caught it, a most extraordinary thing happened. I heard the clear, high note of a flute. And it was coming from inside the trunk.
Other sounds came then—whispering, muttering, swirling around inside my head. Dogs barking, sleigh bells, the cracking of ice. Still holding the ancient mouthpiece in the palm of my hand, I lifted the top piece of paper out of the trunk. It was a handwritten note. It seems enough that Father and Neddy wrote down their parts. Especially Neddy; he was always the storyteller in the family. I am not a storyteller, not really. I guess I did learn a little bit about patience in the course of the journey.
Well, actually I have. Hangs on the north wall in the great room, and the whole story is there. But words are easier to understand for most people. So I will try. And telling a story, I suppose, is like winding a skein of spun yarn—you sometimes lose track of the beginning.
All I intended to do, when I began the journey, was to set things right. They say losing someone you love is like losing a part of your own body. An eye or a leg. But it is far worse—especially when it is your fault. It all began with a pair of soft boots.
Book One Once on a time there was a poor farmer with many children. Except it was a lie. Her name should have been Nyamh Rose. At least, that is what I told myself. I loved each of her seven brothers and sisters, but I will admit there was always something that set Rose apart from the others. She was the hardest to know of my children, and that was because she would not stay still. Every time I held her as a babe, she would look up at me, intent, smiling with her bright purple eyes.
But soon, and always, those eyes would stray past my shoulder, seeking the window and what lay beyond. She tried to hide it, turning her face away. Torsk did not see the frown but looked up at us, beaming. He was a widower with grown sons and a gift for leatherwork. Most of our neighbors were well aware of how superstitious Eugenia was. But cheerful, largehanded Torsk paid no heed to this.
So he did know of the first-gift superstition after all. This time Eugenia did not attempt to hide the frown that creased her face, and I tensed, fearing what she might say. Instead she reached down and straightened one of the boot ties. I stepped forward and, muttering something about Eugenia still being weak, ushered Torsk to the door.
Eugenia is tired, that is all. And you know mothers—they like to keep their babes close. Though I did not say that to neighbor Torsk. Eugenia did like to keep her children close, but it turned out she wanted to keep Rose closest of all. But Father had a falling-out with his family when he went to Bergen to be an apprentice to the mapmaker Esbjorn. Father and Mother had eight children. Rose was the last-born and I was second to last, four years old when they brought Rose home from Askoy Forest.
Some would say four is too young to remember, but I definitely have memories. Lots of them. I remember her smell, like warm milk and soft green moss. Not that it took her long. She was running around on her short legs at just five months. I also remember clearly the evening Mother and Father came home from an afternoon of herb hunting, and instead of herbs they were carrying a lumpy bundle that made funny noises.
My older brothers and sisters had been worried about Mother and Father because there had been a storm and they were much later than usual returning. My older sister Selme laughed. But it turned out I was right after all.
When they finally came through the door, Mother looked very pale and sat down as soon as she could, holding the noisy thing on her lap. The others crowded around, but I hung back, waiting. When I gazed at the little scrunched-up face, I felt a peculiar glow of pride. If I had known just how wild a thing she would turn out to be, I might have thought twice about taking her on. But we both had different ways of living with it. Mother tried always to reel her in.
To keep her close by. But you also get kind of used to it. But the truth is I never did feel either of those things. What was a little spilled blood or a broken bone now and then? I never set out to be disobedient. Exploring ran in my blood. My grandfather Esbjorn was a mapmaker as well as an explorer. And my great-great-grandfather was one of the first Njordens to travel to Constantinople. Neddy would just sigh and say that Mother wanted me in the kitchen straightaway.
Every single thing a body did in our house was charged with meaning. To sweep dust out the front door was to sweep away all your good luck. To sing while baking bread was to guarantee the arrival of ill fortune.
To have an itch on the left side of your body meant certain disaster. And if you sneezed on a Wednesday, you would surely receive a letter—good news if you were facing east and bad if facing north. Father said he started to laugh then, thinking they were having some elaborate joke with him.
It turned out that the direction his mother was facing when Father was born was southeast, which was a good thing according to Mother.
There had already been ill feeling between them that Father had hoped to heal during the visit. But if anything, the strange line of questioning from the "city folk" Father was marrying into seemed to make matters worse, and they parted with bad blood. They believed that birth direction was of overwhelming importance.
Not the alignment of the stars, nor the position of the moon, nor the movement of the tides, nor even the traits handed down from parent to child. My theory was that this strange notion sprang from their preoccupation with mapmaking. So a north-facing baby might be called Nathaniel; a southwest-facing child, Sarah Wilhelmina; and so on.
I myself was an east-facing baby. It turned out that Eugenia went a little further with the birth-direction superstition than any of her forebears. On the night after we were wed, she announced to me that she wanted to have seven children.
Sep 09, Camille rated it it was amazing I absolutely loved this book. I love how it shifts views and tells you what other people are doing and how it has many plots that all tie together in the book. I love the White Bear and I love reading what he has to say and the riddles and poems he speaks in. I fell inlove with Rose and her personality from the beginning, the first few pages a a little slow, I absolutely loved this book. I fell inlove with Rose and her personality from the beginning, the first few pages a a little slow, but that is just setting the story. Push through them and I promise you will not be disappointed. I also love that it is multiple books in one book, though never meant to be a serise.