Review: The Faraway North — Translated By Ian Cumpstey


Cover image and summary from


Title: The Faraway North

Translated by: Ian Cumpstey 

Rating:  ★★★★☆ (4 of 5)

Genre/Pages: Scandinavian Folk Ballads / 116 

Summary: “These ballads convey a fantastic vision of the world as it was imagined in medieval Scandinavia, with monsters and magic intermingled with very human concerns of heroism, tragedy, love, and revenge.

The great hero Sigurd is joined in this collection by troll-battling warriors including Holger Dane, Orm the Strong, and others. There are dramatic scenes of romance, betrayal, and loss. Some of the ballads translated here are attested by paintings or maps that date from earlier than when the first full ballad texts were first written down in the 1500s. An adventure ballad relevant to the history of an Eddic poem is also included.

The ballads are storytelling songs that were passed down as part of an oral folk music tradition in Scandinavia. This collection brings many new ballads to the English-speaking reader. The readable verse translations succeed in conveying the rhythm, spirit, and imagery of the originals. The translations are mainly based on Swedish and Norwegian ballads, with some from Danish tradition.

For each ballad, there is also a short introduction with commentary and background information.

The ballads included are:
Åsmund Frægdegjeva; Steinfinn Fefinnson; Esbjörn Proud and Orm the Strong; Sunfair and the Dragon King; Bendik and Årolilja; Sigurd Sven; Sivard Snare Sven; Little Lisa; Sven Norman and Miss Gullborg; Peter Pallebosson; Sir Svedendal; King Speleman; Holger Dane and Burman; Sven Felding; St Olaf’s Sailing Race.”

Cover Review: I think this cover does an A+ job of giving the potential reader a good idea of how this book feels. It pays homage to the time period from which the ballads come, without looking tacky.

My Review: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It’s been a while since I’ve read a collection of ballads, so I figured I was well overdue for one. I definitely did not regret this read! It gave a fabulous insight into the Scandinavian Folk Ballads, something I had never gotten to read much of before. 

Characters: Because this is a collection of ballads, it is difficult to review the characters individually, but I will say that both the original authors, and the modern translator did a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life and making them seem real and relatable. 

Plot: These ballads are all beautifully paced to keep the reader (or listener, if performed as it was meant to be) engaged and interested. But ballads aren’t for everyone. They have a completely different formula than ANY of our modern methods of storytelling. I think this collection really does do an excellent job of being true to the ballads.

Content Advisory: Some violence and death. Nothing too graphic, from what I can recall. 

To Sum It Up: This collection of action-packed ballads was beautifully translated (no easy feat), and tells a story of a far  different time and culture. If you like ballads or that kind of thing (come on, there have got to be other YA readers that like ballads, too!) I recommend this collection for readers 11 and up. (And yes, I was reading collections of ballads when I was 11. It’s a thing of mine. I love ballads!)



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