The Master of Hestviken: The Axe, by Sigrid Undset

by Peter

This is a classic, highly praised historical fiction novel by Norwegian author and Nobel Prize winner in literature, Sigrid Undset. This book is the first in the Master of Hestviken series by Undset, which consists of four books. It takes places in Norway during the Medieval age.

The basic plot in The Axe follows the young couple  Olav Audunsson and Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter. They were betrothed as children under rather mysterious circumstances and were then raised together. Their lifes are complicated but their destinies somehow intertwined. Eventually,  the two fall in love, and want to finally get married. But times and power positions have changed, though, and the The Master of Hestviken: The Axe, by Sigrid Undsetpowers that be have in the meantime decided to marry them off elsewhere. However, Olav and Ingunn both vow to fight for their marriage, and the remainder of the action is this intense struggle to be able to live their lives together – a seemingly simple with today, but not an option that was open to everyone in Norway during the medieval ages.

The Axe, like the whole Master of Hestviken series, is a superb historical novel. The writing, particularly about the early love scenes, is truly sublime, with the lush imagery set up against the unique medieval Norwegian backdrop. You will be touched by the beauty of some of the writing by Sigrid Undset. It is also a powerful novel morally, and invites comparisons to other early European masters, like Tolstoj.

The events that take place in the novel all reflect a sin early in the novel which casts it long shadows over the whole plot of the novel . The characterizations by Sigrid Undset are masterful, strong and very real. To some extent she creats an environment of rules, obligations, committments and constraints where the characters become trapped in a moral maelstrom created by their own desires, and where they struggle to realize their own desires and wishes, but also to  find redemption. This, perhaps,  is the ultimate meaning of the novel.

The Axe is a wonderful historical novel. Sigrid Undset was knew a lot about the history of Norway, and gives fascinating desriptions of the society, its organization, the norms and rules, as well as the social structure of the time. This is a great – even wonderful – historical novel, perhaps one of the best I have ever read. If you encounter the writings of  Sigrid Undset, you will find she has the power to spellbind you. A magnificient storyteller!

You can read more about Sigrid Undset at

Links to order books by Sigrid Undset: Sigrid Undset at amazon US, Undset at amazon UK, and Undset at amazon CAN

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