Book summary: The Axe: The Master of Hestviken

1928 BY SIGRID UNDSET

Set in thirteenth-century Norway, a land racked by political turmoil and bloody family vendettas, The Axe is the first volume in Sigrid Undset's epic tetralogy, The Master of Hestviken. In it we meet Olav Audunsson and Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter, who were betrothed as children and raised as brother and sister. Now, in the heedlessness of youth, they become lovers, unaware that their ardor will forge the first link in a chain of murder, exile, and disgrace.

Soaringly romantic and psychologically nuanced, Undset's novel is also a meticulous re-creation of a world split between pagan codes of retribution and the rigors of Christian piety--a world where law is a fragile new invention and manslaughter is so common that it's punishable by fine.

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