The Islands of the Blessed

The Islands of the Blessed

by Nancy Farmer


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“Jack, Thorgil, and the Bard are off on a new quest in this immensely satisfying conclusion of the trilogy that began with The Sea of Trolls and continued in The Land of the Silver Apples” in this “beautifully written tale” (Kirkus Reviews).

It begins with a vicious tornado. (Odin on a Wild Hunt, as the young berserker Thorgil sees it.) The fields of Jack’s home village are devastated, the winter ahead looks bleak, and a monster—a draugr—has invaded the forest outside of town.

Soon, Jack, Thorgil, and the Bard are off to right the wrong of a death caused by Father Severus. Their destination is Notland, realm of the fin folk, though they will face plenty of challenges and enemies before get they get there. Impeccably researched and blending the lore of Christian, Pagan, and Norse traditions, this expertly woven tale is beguilingly suspenseful and, ultimately, a testament to love.

The concluding volume of the heroic Sea of Trolls trilogy from National Book Award winner Nancy Farmer finds Jack and his companions on a journey that may end up righting old wrongs—if they survive.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416907381
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 10/16/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 479
Sales rank: 508,235
Product dimensions: 5.64(w) x 8.04(h) x 1.26(d)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Nancy Farmer has written three Newbery Honor books: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which also won the National Book Award and the Printz Honor. Other books include The Lord of Opium, The Sea of Trolls, The Land of the Silver Apples, The Islands of the Blessed, Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, and three picture books for young children. She grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border and now lives with her family in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.


Menlo Park, California

Date of Birth:

July 9, 1941

Place of Birth:

Phoenix, Arizona


B.A., Reed College, 1963

Read an Excerpt



Jack’s fingers ached and blisters had formed on the palms of his hands. Once he could have done this work without harm. Once his skin had been covered with comfortable calluses, protecting him from the slippery handle of the sickle, but no longer. For three years he’d been freed of farmwork. He’d spent his time memorizing poetry and plucking away at a harp—not that he’d ever equaled the Bard. Or ever would.

Sweat ran down his forehead. Jack wiped his face and only succeeded in getting dirt into his eyes. “Curse this job!” he cried, hurling the sickle to the earth.

“At least you have two hands,” said Thorgil, sweating and laboring nearby. She had to hold the bracken ferns in the crook of her arm and slice through them with her knife. Her right hand was frozen, useless, yet she didn’t give up. It both impressed and annoyed Jack.

“Why can’t someone else do this?” he complained, sitting down in the springy bracken.

“Even Thor does inglorious chores when he’s on a quest,” said Thorgil, stolidly dumping an armload of bracken into a growing pile. She turned to gather more.

“This is no quest! This is thrall work.”

“You’d know,” retorted the shield maiden.

Jack’s face turned even hotter as he remembered how he’d been a slave in the Northland. But he swallowed the obvious response that Thorgil herself had been a thrall as a child. She was prey to dark moods that rippled out to blight everyone around her. That was the word for her, Jack thought grimly. She was a blight, a kind of disease that turned everything yellow.

Nothing had worked out since she’d arrived in the village. It took the utmost threats from the Bard to keep her from revealing that she was a Northman, one of the murdering pirates who’d descended on the Holy Isle. Even as it was, the villagers were suspicious of her. She refused to wear women’s clothes. She took offense readily. She was crude. She was sullen. In short, she was a perfect example of a Northman.

And yet, Jack had to remind himself, she had their virtues too—if you could call anything about Northmen virtuous. Thorgil was brave, loyal, and utterly trustworthy. If only she were more flexible!

“If you’d shift your backside, I could harvest that bracken. Or were you planning on using it as a bed?” Thorgil said.

“Oh, shut up!” Jack snatched up his sickle and winced as a blister broke on his hand.

They worked silently for a long time. The sun sent shafts of heat into the airless woodland. The sky—what they could see of it—was a cloudless blue. It pressed down on them like an inverted lake—hot, humid, and completely still. Jack found it hard to believe that a storm was on its way, but that’s what the Bard had said. No one questioned the Bard. He listened to birds and observed the motions of the sea from his lonely perch near the old Roman house where he lived.

A rumbling sound made both Jack and Thorgil look up. The blacksmith’s two slaves had arrived with an oxcart. A moment later the large, silent men crashed through the underbrush to gather up the bracken. They tramped to and fro, never speaking, never making eye contact. They had been sold by their father in Bebba’s Town because they were of limited intelligence, and Jack wondered what kind of thoughts they had. They never seemed to communicate with each other or anyone else.

Even animals thought. As the Bard had instructed Jack, animals had much lore to impart to those who paid attention to them. What kind of lore did Gog and Magog, as the slaves were called, have to impart? Nothing good, Jack decided, looking at their brooding, averted faces.

When the oxcart had been loaded, Jack and Thorgil set off for home. Most of the time they lived at the Bard’s house, but now, during the crisis of the impending storm, they had returned to the farm Jack’s parents owned. It had grown a great deal in the last three years.

Beside the fields, farmhouse, barn, and winter storage shed was a new dairy Jack’s father had built. This contained three sturdy black cows tended by Pega, whom Jack had freed from slavery. She also cared for the chickens, new lambs, and a donkey. But she was not allowed to touch the horses. The horses were Thorgil’s domain and jealously guarded, particularly from the tanner’s daughters.

At the edge of the property, where the land was too stony for crops, was a hovel constructed of peat. This was where the tanner’s widow and her two daughters crowded together with hardly more room than three peas in a pod. They had arrived to help Jack’s mother the year before and had never gone home.

“I wish this storm would arrive,” cried Thorgil, throwing a stone at a crow. The crow eluded it. “The air’s so heavy! It’s like breathing under mud.”

Jack looked up at the cloudless, blue sky. Except for the ominous stillness, it could have been any early summer day. “The Bard spoke to a swallow from the south. It told him that the currents in the air were disordered and all the migrating birds were confused. Why don’t you ever talk to birds, Thorgil?” The shield maiden had gained this ability when she’d accidentally tasted dragon blood.

“They never tell me anything,” she said.

“Maybe if you didn’t throw rocks at them ...”

“Birds are stupid,” Thorgil said with finality.

Jack shrugged. It was like her to ignore the gifts she had and to demand what she could never achieve, a glorious career as a warrior. Her paralyzed hand had put an end to that. She also wanted to be a poet. Jack had to admit that she wasn’t bad. Her voice was harsh and she had a fondness for bloody death scenes, but her stories held your attention.

During long winter evenings the villagers gathered at the chief’s hearth for song and hot cider. The Bard played his harp, and when he wearied, Jack and Thorgil recited sagas. Brother Aiden, the little monk from the Holy Isle, joined in with tales of the god Jesus, of how He fed a thousand people with five fishes and performed many other diverting miracles. But the real draw at these gatherings was Pega. Her voice was so compelling that the very storm blasts hushed to listen to her.

“By Thor, those Tanner brats are meddling with my horses!” Thorgil broke into a run, and Jack hurried after to break up the inevitable fight. The tanner’s daughters were fascinated by the horses, a gift from King Brutus the year before. Actually, it was unclear whose horses they were, since they’d been handed to the entire group of pilgrims returning from Bebba’s Town. Jack thought they ought to be the Bard’s, but Thorgil insisted that they were hers by right, since she was the only true warrior among them.

“Get off, you mangy curs! You’ll ruin their training!” Thorgil whistled and the horses wheeled, throwing their small riders into the dirt. The animals came to a halt before the shield maiden, prancing nervously like the spirited creatures they were. Jack ran to pick up the howling girls. “Tell them to shut up or I’ll really give them something to blubber about,” snarled Thorgil, stroking the manes of the horses.

Jack checked the girls and found they had no real injuries. They were eight and ten, stunted from years of bad food and the noxious air of the old tannery where they had lived until their father died. “They’re only children,” Jack reproved, wiping the girls’ dirty, tear-streaked faces with the tail of his tunic. “You probably did the same thing at that age.”

I was a shield maiden. I was the daughter of—”

“Careful!” Jack said sharply. The girls stopped crying and eyed Thorgil curiously.

“Who was your da, then?” the older one demanded.

“Probably a troll,” the younger said, giggling. Thorgil reached down, but they sped off before she could wallop them with a rock.

“Filthy bog rats,” Thorgil said.

“All it will take is one slip,” Jack warned. “One hint that you are not a Saxon to someone who has reason to hate you, and the whole village will turn against you. And it will turn against my parents and me for sheltering you.”

“That debt is the only thing that keeps me from flinging my true heritage into their faces.” Thorgil embraced the neck of one of the horses, and it blew a long, horsey kiss at her. Jack was impressed, as always, by how much the animals loved her. Too bad she couldn’t inspire the same sentiment in people.

“Let’s go to the house,” Jack said. “I’m starving, and we have to cut bracken all afternoon.”

“Curse the bracken,” swore Thorgil. “Curse the pointless, boring existence in this village. For one rotten turnip I’d throw myself off a cliff into the sea!”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said Jack, leading the way.

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The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy Series #3) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
cleanbookreader More than 1 year ago
Loved this series. The third book was really a surprise in how it ended, but the overall series was really great. There is a lot of good information about mythology, christianity, and nature worship fit into the story. It was done in a way that it gave you an insight into how these different religious beliefs coexisted as Christianity became more of a dominant factor. The characters are very easy to get to know and care about. The friendships and loyalty that are created have an impact. I loved how even characters who were considered ugly on the outside became wonderful to everyone and it teaches a good lesson about judging people for who they are and not what they look like. All 3 books in this series are a very good read.
The_Hibernator on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When an angry ghost arrives on the shores of Jack's village, he, Thorgill, and the Bard must go on a dangerous voyage to pacify her spirit before she hurts anyone. Like the first two books of this series, Islands of the Blessed is packed with adventure after adventure, a vast array of creatures from Celtic, Norse, and Christian mythologies, and an engaging historical background. Like the second book, The Land of the Silver Apples, Farmer may have tried a little too hard to pack in extra adventures and creatures...this makes the book fun and entertaining, but it has the disconnected-wandering-adventures feel of Homer's The Odyssey instead of the tight every-event-has-a-reason feel of Harry Potter. Overall, an excellent book for perhaps the 5th through 8th grades.
goth_marionette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was good, the first book in the series was great. There was not enough development in the characters for my tastes. Too much responsibility was given to two young children that acted like children. The final line of the book was just bad, there was no need to go there. Thorgil had not been called Jill by him through the whole book so why start then. The adventure was interesting and kids who loved the first book should enjoy this one.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Jack, now 14, is attempting to settle back down village life after his most recent adventure. However, when his village is ravaged by Odin's Wild Hunt, and then threatened by a spirit from the deep that has been summoned by a magical bell, Jack, the former shield-maiden Thorgil, and the Bard must head out once again in order to avert disaster. In their travels, they must deal with half-trolls, vengeful spirits, human sacrifice, mermaids, and all manner of deceit and trickery, but hopefully they will be able to lay the past to rest in order to save their loved ones, and find a place for themselves.Review: I think one of the best things about this series is how well it handles religious conflict. Farmer has set her story at a really interesting intersection of Norse, Pagan, and Christian traditions, and her books deal with the positives and negatives of each religion with a degree of maturity and level-headedness that you wouldn't necessarily expect from a mid-grade/young adult fantasy adventure. Although, I've always thought that these books don't really feel exactly like fantasy. I mean, there are trolls and elves and gods and evil spirits and such, but to me it feels more like historical fiction - just historical fiction where the characters are moving through a world where all of their myths are real.So, although I'm really enamored of the world that Farmer has created, the disappointing truth is that the story in The Islands of the Blessed just didn't hold my attention as well as either of its two predecessors. It had the same problem as The Land of the Silver Apples, where there's just too much going on - too many characters both new and reintroduced, too many adventures, etc. - without enough of a central throughline on which to hang all of the rest of the stuff. If I were forced to pick a "main" story, it would probably be that of the mermaid's spirit and the bell, but even that was ignored for large swaths in the middle of the book, and when it was finally brought back up, it was dealt with too quickly, and very anticlimactically. There's not even really a character arc to grab onto as the central thread of the story, since while the characters do grow up a little bit over the course of the story, it was never real a focus. (Also, the Bard was inexplicably crabby about trivial stuff throughout the entire book, which sort of ruined his whole "mysterious and powerful" vibe.) Overall, it wasn't terrible, but it did feel like it lacked some focus, and that diffuse nature made it hard for me to find a hook that really made me want to keep listening. 3 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Younger readers who enjoy Jack and Thorgil's adventures for adventure's sake will probably really enjoy this one just as well as its predecessors. Otherwise, I think I'd recommend just reading the first book of the series, The Sea of Trolls; it's worth reading to get a feel for Farmer's world, and it manages to pack in a bunch of fun adventure without going off the story rails.
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Max Retzlaff More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved each book but the end sort of left me hanging and I wonder if she'll make a second series titled " The School of Bards" it would be awesome and I'd like to see something with Finn McCool and the Fianna.
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Tyler Benson More than 1 year ago
Just plain awesome.
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