I was visiting my family in Iceland before the Holidays and it just so happens that I forgot the book I was reading on the nightstand in Oslo, Norway. My mom therefore lent me one of the books she had rented at the library and it happened to be The Fifth Season by Mons Kallentoft. I hadn’t read any of his books before but didn’t feel it was a problem when reading this one, there was no feeling that some information was missing or that I lacked a piece of some puzzle which would prevent me from enjoying the book.
There is quite the conundrum when reviewing books and being an author at the same time. Firstly, you genuinely want every author to do well and are always hoping you’ll love each book you read. Secondly, you don’t want people to read too much into your review since it is just like any other opinion and you especially don’t want them to take it to heart if it’s not a rave review. Thirdly, when you’ve done your own work you become a bit of a perfectionist and are therefore less forgiving than the general public when it comes to the works of others. I still want to tell you what I think but I encourage you to read the book yourselves and develop your own sense of the author.
I want to start by praising the person that did the translation to Icelandic. It is beautifully done and Jón Þ. Þór really did a marvelous job with the language. I generally try to read books in the original language edition when I am able, and this would have been one of those instances, but since mom only had it in Icelandic I read the translation and I am happy I did since it was wonderful.
I like Mons Kallentoft’s style. He has a peculiar and interesting way of writing. His sentences are generally short, he doesn’t put a lot of effort into pointing out who’s saying what but leaves that to the reader and he tends to be quite poetic and obscure at times. I really enjoy it when people explore the vast wastelands of literary styles and play around with their work and their words.
I was pleased with the first part of the book. I felt his buildup was strong, his usage of perspective and personas very good, immediately making the story very interesting, genuinely making me want to continue reading. I like that he writes in italics when he’s speaking on behalf of somebody who’s either passed away or is unable to speak and how he draws the reader in with poetic yet vivid descriptions of what they’ve been through.
His main character has many interesting aspects to her. Her name is Malin and she’s a very strong and independent woman. Some might think she’s too strong and independent but that is for each to evaluate for themselves. I mostly enjoyed reading about her and the way she thinks. I liked how enthusiastically she wanted to solve the riddle of what happened to the speechless girls and prevent it from happening to other women. I like the depth of her character; she has a fleshed-out background, she has opinions and she follows her gut. She was my favorite character in the book and her new boyfriend sounded wonderful, definitely fitting the description of every girl’s prince charming – strong, handsome, a doctor, can tolerate Malin’s difficult personality, stands by her, tries to understand her and so on.
I like how Mons creates a mood which draws his reader into his world. I often felt I was standing next to the detective in the gloomy atmosphere, looking at the mutilated body of a young woman. I also felt the main characters’ sadness and internal battles, I could understand her, feel her, be her. I think Mons really did a good job there.
When I started reading the book I was very pleased. I felt I had found a wonderful book and I genuinely liked what was happening and how it was painted before my eyes. My opinion unfortunately changed over the course of the book, but I want to stress that I think Mons really is a good writer and there are a lot of things he is doing absolutely correctly. But now for the Bad parts.
The book is too long in my opinion. It is every authors’ Achilles’ heal how painful it is to cut from their own work. You’ve put so much effort into writing those lines, to thinking through and contemplating exactly what they should say and how it should be portrayed, that when it comes to cutting away the fat and removing something you put your heart into, it often becomes extremely hard. I feel Mons should have cut more, he becomes very repetitive at times and it is a shame because the value of the words is good if he didn’t repeat them so often.
Another thing which bothered me was that the names of his characters are too similar. I had a real problem remembering who’s who. Malin was one. Maria Murvall was another, then there was Peter and Peder. Sören Lind and Sven Sjöman. Karin and Karim. There were a lot of characters and for some reason their names were too similar for my brain to distinguish between them without some effort and I think that is something that can easily be prevented. My recommendation is to try to use different letters for the main characters, that makes it easier for the reader to distinguish.
He overdid the supernatural. The supernatural flair is great and it really suited this book but he truly overdid it. I feel the book would have benefited greatly from getting a haircut. There was a point where I thought to myself that I just couldn’t take another description of a multi-headed snake or monster, something your reader should never experience, which gets me to another point, some of his descriptions were all too similar. I often felt I had already read exactly the same thing earlier on.
I feel I understand the thought process fairly well. He has this distinct idea of what he’s writing about and he truly wants the reader to understand it, but what I feel his mistake was that he didn’t trust his readers enough to fill in the gaps as he should. Readers are marvelous creatures; they are so smart, so insightful and they have such vivid imaginations. Us authors often only have to hint at something and they’ll finish the idea themselves, I feel Mons should have done more of that.
Although I feel the idea of plot was very good I am not too happy with it’s execution. He gave too much away too early and there was never really a Wow or a Oh, Really? factor for me. I would have wanted there to be a more of a twist but instead he seems to have spent most of his energy on creating excitement and obscurity. I would love to see him work on adding more of the unexpected to his plot and creating a bigger element of surprise for the reader.
In summary I want to say that l feel that Mons has great potential. I truly believe he could become one of the best crime writers in the world. His work is good, his ideas are interesting and he has the ability to write amazing text and that is truly the hardest part of being a writer. He also captures his reader with his descriptions and atmosphere and there are really very few things which need fixing for him to become amazing, things that are easily mended.
I was genuinely sad I didn’t like his book more because when I started reading it I was so certain I would love it. My advice to him would be to read his first 100 pages and learn from their brilliance and then read the rest and try cutting out pieces to create a better and more condensed piece of work that says it all without becoming too tedious, repetitive and too voluminous to read. With a bit of editing and the removal of some early giveaways of plot details, I am sure his whole book could become just as amazing as his first pages made it out to be.