Hrafn, Vigdis, Anna and Egill are four city dwellers who decide to go on a road trip to escape their lives for a week or two – what could possibly go wrong?
When they hit the highlands, a car crash forces them to take refuge with a mysterious old couple, trapped by the weather that prevents any attempt at escape. As the claustrophobia sets in, the four friends find their relationships tested, and there’s something horrible lurking in their midst.
There are two halves that feel almost at war with each other within The Ice Lands. One is an absorbing drama, as a group of friends deal with the fallout of the financial crisis, while the other is a slow-burning environmental horror. Peppered through this are bits taken from Icelandic folklore, urban legends, and pretty much any road trip horror movie you can recall.
But Bragi never manages to mesh this into a satisfying whole, and the novel feels like it has escaped from him before you reach the end of the prose. There is, however, some creepy fun to be had along the way. Bragi sets up a central mystery, but prefers to err on the side of ambiguity, leaving it to the reader to decide for themselves.
He uses the Icelandic landscape, at once beautiful and terrifying, to stunning effect. The expanse of it contrasts sharply to the claustrophobia of the old couple’s cabin, and Bragi makes sure that neither of them feels any safer than the other. Yet the characters wander into horrors with such little reaction that the impact of the environment lessens as the novel progresses.
Though the novel’s two halves never quite align, The Ice Lands is a tale heavy on atmosphere, even if the level of satisfaction it inspires might vary from reader to reader. Still, the positives just about outweigh the negatives, and its haunting effect cannot be denied.