By Josephine Greenland
Publication Date: 4th March 2021 Publisher: Unbound Page Length: 336 Pages Genre: Young Adult / Crime / Mystery
Two siblings, one crime. One long-buried secret.
17-year-old Ellen never wanted a holiday. What is there to do in a mining town in the northernmost corner of the country, with no one but her brother Simon – a boy with Asperger’s and obsessed with detective stories – for company?
Nothing, until they stumble upon a horrifying crime scene that brings them into a generations-long conflict between the townspeople and the native Sami. When the police dismiss Simon’s findings, he decides to track down the perpetrator himself. Ellen reluctantly helps, drawn in by a link between the crime and the siblings’ own past. What started off as a tedious holiday soon escalates into a dangerous journey through hatred, lies and self-discovery that makes Ellen question not only the relationship to her parents, but also her own identity.
‘Do you hear that, Ellen?’ Simon said, excitement in his eyes. ‘There must be at least a hundred reindeer here!’
Ellen had been aware of the noise as soon they stepped out of the car. Now, she paid proper attention to it.
Beyond the bygdegård came a chorus of bleating. Loud, high-pitched, similar to that of sheep or goat. Chiming above the bleats, hollow and metallic, was the sound of bells.
The siblings moved towards the sound.
A large pen lay on the other side of the hall. It was partly amongst the trees, partly out in sunlight. A sea of brown moved inside it.
Reindeer. So many reindeer they were impossible to count. They trotted in circles around the pen, clockwise, forming a massive whirlpool with their bodies. As the siblings watched, one of the animals in the middle made a turn and the whole herd turned with it, causing a ripple effect through the bodies. Dust rose from the ground churned by hooves, bleats and bell chimes clashed against each other in broken rhythms. People stood lined up against the fence of the pen. They were perfectly still, and it was impossible to hear any talk through the bleating. As Ellen watched, one person stepped through the fence into the pen. Judging by the blonde plaits hanging down over the herder’s shoulders from under the cap, Ellen assumed it was a woman. She waded through the animals, arms raised, holding a coiled rope in her right hand. The animals didn’t seem to notice her until she made a lunge to the right. Then, the sea of reindeer parted itself. One group swerved to the left, the other to the right, regrouping at the far side of the pen.
The woman approached the left group. Slower this time, drifting rather than walking. Ellen made out smaller animals. Calves, hiding behind their mothers. They tapped their hooves against the ground.
Just as the herd were about to scatter again, the woman sidestepped. She came up close to a calf at the back, held out her arms so he couldn’t rejoin the group, sidestepping until he had no more room to move. Then she threw the rope over the head of the animal and pulled tight.
The calf gave a loud bleat. It struggled against the rope, tried to walk away. The woman stumbled along with it at first, vanished from sight as the herd regrouped around her. Then she slipped through a funnel at the side, which led to a smaller pen further down, dragging the calf behind her. In the smaller pen, it tried to get away again, but the woman planted her feet squarely on the ground and leaned back, as if reclining in an invisible armchair.
The calf sank to its knees.
The woman straddled it and took out a knife. She bent down by its head, as if whispering to it, stroking its neck. Then with one swift movement, she made a cut in the animal’s ear.
The calf let out a high-pitched, drawn-out bleat.
Ellen drew her breath in. ‘That’s got to hurt! Is it bleeding?’
The woman made a second cut on the animal’s earlobe. Then she patted its neck and stepped off. The calf shook its head, then slowly stood up and returned to the other calves in the pen. Ellen assumed they’d already been marked.
The reindeer herder wiped dust off her face and turned to the people by the fence.
She wasn’t quite a woman. A girl, maybe two or three years older than Ellen. A grin crept onto her face. She said something, but her voice was drowned out by the thundering hooves from the big pen.
Another herder stepped through the fence. A boy, Ellen saw, as he turned to the crowd. The girl joined him, and together they moved towards the reindeer.
It became clear that the girl was more experienced. The boy’s movements weren’t as swift and subtle, he made big efforts to get hold of the reindeer rather than drifting towards them, and he did not have as much control with the rope. He needed several more tries before he finally got a calf. Once he had it on the ground, though, he was as gentle and efficient as the girl. In no time the calf was back on its feet, shaking its head slightly, but otherwise all right.
Josephine is a Swedish-British writer from Sweden, currently working as an English teacher in Edinburgh. She has a BA in English from the University of Exeter, and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham. She started writing novels at the age of nine, but only began writing seriously in English while at university, for her first creative writing course (2015). Since then, she’s had 14 short stories published, won two competitions and been shortlisted twice. Embers is her first novel, inspired by her travels in northern Sweden with her brother, and was her dissertation project for her MA. When not writing, she enjoys playing music, jogging, hiking, and discussing literature with her cat.
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