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*Starred Review* It is March 1829, and Agnes Magnusdottir has been sentenced to be beheaded for murdering her employer. Due to the cost of keeping her imprisoned, she is sent to the farm of district commissioner Jon Jonsson, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, until her execution. She arrives at the farm filthy, bruised, and bleeding due to the cruelty with which she has been treated during her imprisonment. The mistress of the farm immediately puts her to work scything the harvest, churning butter, and making sausages, while a young priest visits with her to prepare her soul for death. It is from their conversations that Agnes' story becomes known: abandonment by her mother condemns her to life as a pauper subject to the behest of her many employers, and her intelligence only makes her more of a target. Kent's debut novel, she says, is my dark love letter to Iceland, and rarely has a country's starkness and extreme weather been rendered so exquisitely. The harshness of the landscape and the lifestyle of nineteenth-century Iceland, with its dank turf houses and meager food supply, is as finely detailed as the heartbreak and tragedy of Agnes' life, based on the true story of the last woman executed there. Haunting reading from a bright new talent.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Kent's debut delves deep into Scandinavian history, not to mention matters of storytelling, guilt, and silence. Based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the novel is set in rural Iceland in 1829. Agnes is awaiting execution for the murder of her former employer and his friend, not in a prison-there are none in the area-but at a local family's farm. Jon Jonsson, the father, grudgingly accepts this thankless task as part of his responsibility as a regional official, but his wife and daughters' reactions range from silent resentment to outright fear. After settling in to the household, Agnes requests the company of a young priest, to whom she confesses parts of her story, while narrating the full tale only to the reader, who, like the priest, "provide[s] her with a final audience to her life's lonely narrative." The multilayered story paints sympathetic and complex portraits of Agnes, the Jonssons, and the young priest, whose motives for helping the convict are complicated. Kent smoothly incorporates her impressive research- for example, she opens many of the chapters with documents that come directly from archival sources-while giving life to these historical figures and suspense to their tales. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.