Blurb: A strikingly original Icelandic debut set in a strangely familiar alternate Reykjavik where wild and industrialised magic meet.
the Mad, addict and sorcerer, has been expelled from the magical university,
Svartiskóli, and can no longer study galdur, an esoteric source of magic.
Obsessed with proving his peers wrong, he will stop at nothing to gain absolute
power and knowledge, especially of that which is long forbidden.
Garún is an
outcast: half-human, half-huldufólk, her very existence is a violation of
dimensional boundaries, the ultimate taboo. A militant revolutionary and
graffiti artist, recklessly dismissive of the status quo, she will do anything
to achieve a just society, including spark a revolution. Even if she has to do
This is a
tale of revolution set in a twisted version of Reykjavik fuelled by
industrialised magic and populated by humans, interdimensional exiles,
otherworldly creatures, psychoactive graffiti and demonic familiars.
Perfect for fans of contemporary fantasy in the style of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians or China Mieville’s The City & The City.
Author bio: Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson is an Icelandic author who lives in Reykjavík. Shadows of the Short Days is his first novel. He writes in both Icelandic and English and is the founder and editor of Iceland’s first SFF magazine, Furðusögur (Weird Stories). Alexander is also the vocalist and lyricist for Icelandic black metal band Carpe Noctem.
Garún removed her mask and stepped away from the wet graffito to see clearly the whole of the hex sigil she’d painted. It was difficult breathing through the filters on the leather mask and it felt good to taste the fresh air. It was dark; the only light came from the pale moon that sat low in the sky. She relied on insight and feeling when she painted, so the dark didn’t bother her. She didn’t need to see to know if the graffiti was good or when it was ready. She simply felt it, but it was a raw feeling. She wanted to be sure, so she slipped the goggles over her eyes in order to see the sorcerous seiðmagn bleeding from the paint.
jutted out unexpectedly from the red and obscure graffito, and even though the
paint wasn’t dry yet the seiðmagn already radiated powerfully into the
environment. Exhausted from the work, Garún felt dried up after using so much
delýsíð paint in such a short time. While she painted, the emotions expressed
within her art were amplified by the delýsíð in the paint and cast back to her
in a vicious psychedelic cycle: she was the snake that fed on itself. Now, it
was complete. Garún turned down the volume of the electronic music booming in
her ears and focused on letting the painting speak to her.
The graffito was
in a good location atop the store Krambúðin and with luck it would be weeks
until it was discovered. All the while it would continue to bleed seiðmagn into
the environment, where it would infiltrate the subconscious of those nearby. It
would slowly infect their minds and sow the seeds of discord. If left
undisturbed, the painting would become as a death mask over the building and
Krambúðin was a
store owned by Sigurður Thorvaldsen, a merchant who ran several enterprises in
the greater Reykjavík area. The one below Garún’s feet had become one of the
most popular colonial stores in the city since Sigurður had moved to Reykjavík
and set up shop almost the same day as the occupation of the Crown began. Not
for the soldiers, but for all the people from the countryside flooding to the
city to work for the army. The Crown needed a large working force, especially
to build the forts in Viðey and the barracks on Seltjarnarnes. Sigurður had
pushed those out who threatened his business, threatening, blackmailing and
maiming – but, above all, profiting. By the time occupation became colonisation
and the forts of the colonial masters were built, Sigurður Thorvaldsen had
become a wealthy man and Reykjavík a fully grown city.
Garún had sprayed on the roof was an anti-prosperity hex. It was intended to
drive away the establishment’s elite customers who prized Krambúðin’s imported
luxury products. Exotic spices, delicate fabrics, handmade soaps, candies and
perfumes were only a small fraction of the merchandise available. Those who did
not subconsciously avoid the store would become victims to the hex. Pushy
customers would argue with the staff, who in turn would be unhelpful and
patronising. With luck the influence would spread over the whole street as the
graffito fed on the people’s negative emotions and spewed them back out. She
hoped that it would be able to remain unharassed for longer than her other
work, which had all been found within a few days.
She took the
spray cans and the painting mask and stuffed them into her backpack along with
the goggles. Before climbing down from the roof she double-checked that she’d
left no empty cans behind. She slid down the fire escape ladder in the back and
turned up the volume again. It was calm and slow, the bass steady and
comforting, telling her that nobody was around, nobody was watching. She ran
silently through empty yards, vaulted over the fences in her path. The beat
became faster the closer she got to the Hverfisgata Road and the stressed
rhythm hinted that the police might not be far down the street. She weaved through
alleys and backyards alongside Hverfisgata’s busy road. The evening traffic had
barely started to trickle downtown. Sudden breaks and booming bass lines told
her if someone was about to cross her path or about to look out of their
window, and she reacted instinctively, ducking into cover and waiting for the
threat to pass. She could never be absolutely sure that she had not been seen,
and often it was hard to read the music, but after endless practice it had
become almost second nature, a part of her natural reflex. She let go and let
the music speak to her subconscious.
The closer she
got to Hlemmur the more uneasy the music grew. Patrol cars were lined up in
front of the police station, which was fused with the central station like a
tumour grown outside a body. The beat was thick and murky, the music absolutely
deafening. She turned down the volume so it was barely audible, pulled her
hoodie up and tried not to think about what would happen if she was stopped for
a random search.
station was home for those who had nowhere else to go. Hobos, junkies, a few
blendingar. She made sure not to glance towards them as she felt them notice
her walking past. As if they resented her for not sitting with them in the
gutter. Policemen stood by the ticket booth and gates, docile but formidable.
She tried to keep a low profile, but without it being suspicious. Just as would
be expected from a blendingur like her.
She took the
train to Starholt. Most working people had got home by now and the nightlife
didn’t pick up until after midnight, so the train was relatively empty. The
city lights took on a blurred halo in the grimy windows.
No one greeted her when she came
home. She missed Mæja. What was she thinking, leaving the cat with Sæmundur? He
could barely take care of himself, let alone a cat. She was unsure what her
intention had been, exactly. She’d wanted him to feel guilt or remorse, or
anything at all, there at the end. But he had been simply too numb and now her
little cat was probably starved to death underneath worm-eaten manuscripts and
dirty socks. One more thing she tried not to think about.
Her studio flat
was a bedroom, kitchen, working area and living room simultaneously. The sink
was filled with paintbrushes and squeezed paint tubes were found on almost
every surface. Half-completed paintings were scattered around in stacks leaning
against the walls. The air smelled of paint, oil, acrylics and spray mixed in
with a faint, sour reek of delýsíð. It was probably good that she was rid of
Mæja. The cat would have been long dead from all the toxic chemicals in the
Garún took off
her large headphones and removed the audioskull from the backpack. Sæmundur had
summoned the noisefiend himself and bound it into the skull when she’d started
to tag small, powerful delýsíð staves here and there. Wires stuck out of the
bare headphones, an old operator’s headset she had converted. She had always
meant to make a casing from wood or brass, but had never got around to it. The
headphones were plugged into the forehead of the audioskull. The skull had a
blue shade to it, covered in runes and esoteric symbols coloured a dark red. It
was both illegal and dangerous to summon demons, but Sæmundur never cared about
risks. She’d got a used portable transistor radio cheap and had been listening
to it on the go, carrying it around in her backpack. That’s what had given him
the idea. Transmundane beings were incredibly dangerous even when bound in
bone, and Garún had absolutely lost it when he gave her the skull. Still, she
had used it.
She took off the
black clothes and emptied her backpack. She hid the clothes, along with the
backpack and audioskull, under a loose board in the closet. Inside there was a
hidden compartment where she put the nearly empty delýsíð spray cans. She was
practically out, and she needed more. She’d gone tagging a bit too frequently
these last weeks, excited for the upcoming protest they had planned. She would
have to get more. The bright and unnatural colours had stained her fingers. She
turned on the shower and washed her hands with strong and coarse soap before
stepping in. The water smelled faintly of sulphur, a familiar and soothing
After the shower
she dried off with a towel and wrapped it around her head to dry her
shoulder-length hair. She stirred a raw egg into skyr and read a book while she
ate. The book had come free from a nearby café; many of the coffee houses in
Starholt had various kinds of free shops and trade markets. Many of the local
residents were artists and it aided them in their never-ending pursuit of
inspiration and materials. This book was written nearly a century before, long
before the occupation by the Crown. The novel was about a huldukona who wanted
to become a poet, but her poems were rejected by the Hrímlanders because of who
she was. Because of what she was. All
her life was one long struggle. The book was singed and burned and many pages
had been ripped out of it. There still remained some readable parts and Garún
devoured them. She’d never found a novel about huldufólk before.
finished eating she wrapped the towel around herself, sat out on the balcony
and rolled a cigarette. Just a bit too tight, so she had to work her lungs to
inhale the livid smoke. Winter had begun smothering autumn and the evening dark
was sharp and deep. The apartment buildings surrounded a playground where a few
children played in an old wooden play castle that had once been multicoloured,
but the paint had peeled off long ago. No one was monitoring them. Late as it
was, this was a common sight. She looked over to the other balconies. Clean
laundry hung out to dry on taut clothes lines everywhere, among the junk that
artists and collectors had gathered: old fishing nets, rusted iron and
driftwood, sheets of corrugated iron and other garbage that was a gleaming
treasure in some eyes.
Garún threw the
butt over the balcony and went inside. She had to get more delýsíð spray paint.
Viður would hook her up. She put on a pair of old jeans and a plain black top,
grabbed a moss green coat on the way out. She took her time walking to the
central area of Starholt, the epicentre where the art types and other
ideological outcasts, self-declared or not, met each night with the common goal
of gossip, flattery, drink and dope in various degrees. As she got closer to
the heart of it all, the neighbourhood came to life. Massive cement towers gave
way to lower, friendlier houses. Electric lamps with stained glass lit up the
streets, twisted modern sculptures that were a welcome change from the Crown’s
uniform standard issue lamps everywhere else in the city.
náskárar sat on eaves over dark alleyways, selling drugs. They were adorned
with markings of their tribe, all of them warriors with iron-clad claws or
beaks. Bright laughter moved through the crowd like an infectious cough and
occasionally glasses of beer shattered. Huldufólk and humans hung together in
separate groups outside bars and clubs.
attitude towards her was reserved when she walked past them, all of them
reflexively reaching out to see who was there. Garún barely noticed, having
grown used to shutting it out long ago. Not that humans considered her an equal
either – on the contrary – but some huldufólk had a vicious
way of upholding what they considered the old ways, and she served as an
offensive reminder to them of how far they had fallen.
She shook off these thoughts and lit another cigarette to clear her head. Those strangers didn’t matter. She had found her own people. And above all, she had herself.
Shadows of the Short Days will be released on July 11th, 2019 by Gollancz.
Adam is a Pennsylvania resident and has been reviewing and blogging SFF since 2017. When he's not reading or working his day job as a pharma consultant, he enjoys writing reviews, beta reading, and story editing. He loves hockey, his family, and his ridiculously adorable kittens. Hit him up at @swiff