Not only is the land of ice and fire a beautiful place to visit, but it is also a great setting for a book, especially because of how jaw-dropping and picturesque the environment of Iceland really is with glaciers, hot springs, waterfalls, and spectacular ice caves around every corner.
If you’re currently counting down the days to when you will arrive in Iceland, or if you’re simply daydreaming about the beauty of this Nordic island nation and want to learn a little more about it, the good news is that there are plenty of books based in Iceland with gripping stories, unique characters, and a whole lot of references to the culture and tradition of this incredible country.
Here are 19 of the very best books which are based in Iceland for you to start reading today, or while you relax on the plane while heading toward your destination.
19 Best Books About Iceland You Should Read
The lush and jaw-dropping scenery of Iceland, along with its unique culture and history, makes it the perfect location to base a story of any genre.
Below are some of the most gripping and exciting books set in Iceland that you can pick up on the market right now and enjoy for yourself.
In a story symbolizing the struggle between traditional and modernized Iceland, we follow Alfgrímur, a young boy who dreams of becoming a coastal fisherman of the land just like his adoptive grandfather.
However, this all changes when the famed Icelandic singer, Gardar Holm, notices that the boy has a hidden talent for music, and persuades him to alter his dreams for the future.
As Alfgrímur moves to the modernized city of Reykjavík in order to become a full-fledged musician, he soon realizes that this new lifestyle is far different than the one back home, and maybe one that is a little too demanding for him to handle.
- A great look into the gap between rural and modernized Iceland.
- Plenty of towns and cities are explored.
- A very relatable and sympathetic story.
- A very slow burn to begin with.
When Lobbi loses his mother in an unfortunate car accident, he goes through a period of depression that he just can’t seem to shake off.
To add even more worry and anxiety, he soon after learns that he is a father after a fateful one-night stand.
The young twenty-year-old takes on the extraordinary responsibility of caring for a child, helping his autistic twin brother, and taking care of the one thing he cherishes most in this world, his mother’s greenhouse, in this emotional but beautiful story all about valuing the smaller things that make life worthwhile.
- The story is very gripping right from the beginning.
- Very relatable and grounded story.
- Lobbi experiences a lot of growth and development throughout the story.
- Beautiful imagery of several locations in Iceland.
- The third act lasts for a little too long.
In a story that encourages the reader to think about their own free will and how much agency they actually have in a world full of technology, we follow Indridi and Sigrid as they question the world and the people around them after Iceland becomes consumed by LoveStar, a corporation that has turned it into a completely wireless country.
More than that though, LoveStar has also calculated which mates are best suited for each Icelandic individual, pairing people up automatically and creating families based on statistics, with our two characters becoming more suspicious of how far this type of consumerism will go, and how much more it can affect the populace.
- Very thought-provoking themes of free will and individualism.
- The LoveStar company is very mysterious and a great antagonistic force.
- Jaw-dropping descriptions of Icelandic towns and villages.
- Side characters are barely developed and absent for much of the story.
Sarah Moss is drawn to the strangeness of Iceland, the hillsides of scorching hot mud, the elven fairy tales, and the volcanic craters, every time she learned something new about Iceland, she felt as if the country was calling for her to visit.
When Sarah secures a job at the University of Iceland, she and her children must adapt to a country with a very different culture, along with admiring all the beauty it has to offer and battling through intense financial hardships in this honest story about the wonders and worries of moving home.
- Sarah is very honest about the fears and excitement of migration.
- An interesting look at the effects of the Icelandic financial crisis.
- Very easy to read with all terminology clearly explained.
- The perfect length.
- Very slow pacing to begin with until it picks up.
When a pirate raid hit the coast of Iceland in 1627, hundreds of people were taken from their homes, including a pastor, his children, and his wife Àsta.
This story focuses on this event, and more specifically Àsta, and her attempts to survive in a life of captivity as she calls back to her Northern homeland through reminiscing on the fairytales and folklore stories that were told to her as a child.
Sally Magnusson manages to make a story that is very gruesome and intense seem a lot more hopeful and beautiful in its tone as we explore the unshakeable connection between an individual and their home country and traditions.
- A very emotional story about survival and hope.
- Beautiful references to Icelandic folklore and cultural traditions.
- Àsta is a fantastic protagonist with a lot of personality and character.
- Gruesome scenes of violence might be slightly off-putting for some readers.
In this murder mystery novel based in Reykjavík, the lifeless body of a man is found in his flat with a cryptic note in hand, along with a very peculiar picture of a young girl’s grave. It’s up to detective Erlendur to piece together what this all means, alongside trying to improve relations with his daughter.
The revelations in this story really are very unexpected and shocking as the murder mystery quickly becomes something much bigger than Erlendur ever would have expected.
- The main mystery is very unpredictable.
- Great pacing from beginning to end.
- The personal relationship between Erlendur and his daughter is a great subplot.
- Some of the terminologies are quite complex and not well explained.
In this mystical and whimsical tale set during the harsh Icelandic winter, we follow multiple different characters from very different walks of life, but whose lives are also inescapable from one another.
While the book is ultimately a tragedy due to the events throughout the plot, the four very unique characters all bring their own wittiness and charm to each page, meaning the story never gets boring, especially with a few mysterious plot points to keep you guessing until the very end.
- Each main character gets plenty of attention and time to develop.
- The main mystery is very elusive and unexpected.
- A fantastic mix of serious, witty, and emotional passages.
- Beautiful descriptions of Iceland during the winter.
- Some plot revelations are a little disappointing.
While Gunnhildur may be a traditional woman who lives on the more rural side of Iceland in a very quaint and small village, as a police sergeant, she is sometimes required to venture outside of her comfort zone.
When she is ordered to piece together and uncover how the lifeless body of a man has washed up on an Icelandic beach, her investigation takes her into the big city as she becomes involved in the cosmopolitan world of government corruption, gang violence, and shady deals.
- The stakes feel very high throughout the entire story.
- A very detailed comparison between rural and urban Iceland.
- Many different areas of Iceland are explored.
- The mystery never becomes predictable.
- Too many subplots can distract from the main mystery.
The small area of Siglufjördur is usually known as a fairly isolated and quiet fishing village, but this changes when the locals discover a half-naked woman bleeding out in the snow.
Ari becomes weary that something more sinister may be occurring within the village, and his suspicions seem to be correct when not long after, an acclaimed writer falls to his death in a local theater.
Ari must look into the village’s past, the people who live there, and even his own history to finally uncover what dark secrets are held in this small corner of Iceland.
- The mystery only expands and becomes more interesting as the story progresses.
- The village of Siglufjördur is described in incredible detail.
- A lot of references to Icelandic national history.
- The more mystical elements can ruin the realism of the story at certain points.
Accused murderess Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last person to be executed in Iceland, and now, Hannah Kent tells her story while trying to help the reader understand how a smart and kind woman with a bright life ahead of her would commit such heinous acts in this introspective novel centered around regret and innocence.
- Hannah Kent does a great job at humanizing Agnes.
- A lot of attention is given to the execution and prison system of 19th-century Iceland.
- Every character feels crucial to the overall story.
- Hannah Kent portrays Iceland as beautiful, mysterious, and at times, dangerous.
- There are a few unexplained loose ends by the end.
While most Viking stories will center around the men and their adventure into unknown lands and across the glistening Atlantic seas, this book instead follows Gudrid and her experience traveling in magnificent warships with her brethren, experiencing a new land full of mystery and wonder, and how she views the constant torment and killing that comes with being a Viking in this compelling historical novel.
- A Viking story with a female protagonist provides a fresh viewpoint and perspective.
- Very in-depth descriptions of Icelandic religion, traditions, and locations.
- Multiple different parts of Iceland are explored in the book.
- Some of the violent passages seem unnecessary and very gory.
Promoted as a “novel about a meltdown”, Unraveled explores suspicion and infidelity within a marriage, and what drives a person to betray the one they love.
Set during the 2008 Icelandic economic crash, this story provides a very in-depth history of the effects this period had on the Icelandic population, and hones in on our two main protagonists to see the kind of impact it can have on a marriage that is already full of secrets and mysteries.
- The story goes into great detail about the consequences of the Icelandic financial crisis.
- A very prevalent theme of trust and secrecy within marriage.
- Multiple countries are explored alongside Iceland.
- The relationship between Frida and Damien feels very real and natural.
- The pacing can feel rushed toward the end and would have benefitted from being slightly longer.
This beautifully written novel earned the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature upon its release, and while it may be a few decades old at this point, it is still just as meaningful and enjoyable to read today.
The story follows a simple yet heroic sheep farmer who has been acting as a servant for most of his life but has taken it upon himself to fight for independence, even when the consequences of doing so could be incredibly dangerous or even life-threatening.
While the story is serious and very heartfelt, there is still plenty of wit and charm provided by the characters to make it an uplifting read and a sheer delight to flick through, especially since it isn’t too long.
- A very heartfelt and emotional story about how one person can make a huge difference.
- This an extremely honest commentary on the history of independence and freedom within Iceland.
- The ending answers all lingering questions in a very satisfying way.
- The farmland setting can become a little bland after a while.
- Not many other parts of Iceland are explored throughout the story.
If you would consider yourself a fan of dark comedies that like to put a humorous spin on more bleak topics, then you won’t want to miss out on 101 Reykjavík, a story centered around the miserable, but fairly eventful life of 30-year-old Hlynur Bjorn.
While Hlynur very rarely leaves his room, when he does, he becomes one of the most unpredictable men in all of Iceland, and it’s fair to say that some of the places he ends up will leave any reader gobsmacked in this witty and humorous tale about a man trying to find excitement in his life.
- One of the best dark comedy stories out there.
- Hlynur is an extremely funny protagonist.
- The unpredictability of the story keeps it fresh and exciting.
- The cities of Iceland are described in beautiful and glamorous detail.
- The pacing is very inconsistent and fluctuates a lot throughout the book.
In this fascinating book that goes into detail about the good and the bad aspects of romanticization, Sarah Moss moves with her family back to Iceland in the hopes of learning more about the history and culture of an island that she has become obsessed with as an academic writer.
When she arrives and admires the beauty of the country and its people, her romanticized depiction of the island begins to crack when she is thrust into the middle of a financial crisis, and must also guide her family to safety after a destructive volcanic eruption.
Sarah Moss manages to perfectly convey the wonders of Iceland, along with the struggles of daily life that many of the locals experience on a regular basis in this bestselling novel.
- A very honest look at the issues of romanticizing an area.
- Academic Sarah Moss goes into great detail about the history and culture of Iceland.
- Multiple plot twists and unexpected turns throughout the story.
- Sarah’s family doesn’t get much development or attention as the story progresses.
Considered by many to be one of the best-written novels of all time, with it now being translated into over 30 languages, Angels Of The Universe is a story that perfectly balances being emotional, hilarious, and incredibly intense throughout its 164 pages, and while this might sound fairly short, there really is a tremendous amount packed into this memorable story.
The book jumps between past and present as we follow Paul, a well-intentioned man who realizes that he is slowly losing his mind as he grows old, making for an incredibly heartfelt story about regret, fear, and how to make light of a dark period.
- The serious and emotional story is balanced out nicely by appropriate comedic passages.
- Paul is an incredibly sympathetic and relatable protagonist.
- A lot of Icelandic humor is featured in the book.
- The ending is incredibly emotional but satisfying.
- Jumping between past and present can break up the pacing at points.
Part of what makes The Pets such a unique and compelling story is that the main character, Emil, shouldn’t be someone that we root for as readers.
While he is riding a plane back to his home city of Reykjavík, he meets Greta, a girl that he endlessly flirts with, despite the fact that he already has a loyal girlfriend waiting for him.
When he arrives home, however, Emil runs into Harvard, a violent alcoholic who despises Emil more than anything in the world, leading to an incredibly unique story where the ignorant and arrogant main character becomes someone we can sympathize with on so many levels.
- Emil is a very complex and layered character.
- Many different areas of the city of Reykjavík are explored.
- Very intense and even creepy sections make for a thrilling read.
- Emil’s partners and relatives are absent for much of the story.
- The cast of characters can feel a little limited.
Every summer, Freya Morris travels from her American suburb to the small and quaint community of Gimli to visit her Icelandic relatives, one of which is her troubled and slightly unusual aunt.
When Freya becomes obsessed with the mystery of a well-known family, she asks her aunt to help her, but when the mysterious woman puts Freya under a spell, she is transported to a mystical version of Iceland while listening to all of her aunt’s stories about Norse mythology, Viking bards, and even her late grandfather whom she never knew.
- A very mystical and wondrous depiction of Iceland.
- Multiple mysteries keep the story fresh and engaging.
- Norse mythology plays a big part in the story.
- Freya doesn’t experience too much development as a character.
As Iceland tries to recover from the destruction of the Second World War, the political landscape of the country is changing rapidly.
When a northern country girl notices this transformation, she decides to become a maid in the house of her Member of Parliament where she becomes a critic of the rootless and shallow south which has strayed much too far from the ancient traditions and culture which is still held by the north.
This a political thriller with many twists and turns, and a truly brilliant character study of a person so feverish and determined in their personal policies that it might lead them to end up causing more damage than good in the process.
- Extremely engaging character study.
- A gripping political thriller with a fascinating insight into Icelandic politics after WW2.
- Laxness goes into great detail when comparing the north and south of Iceland.
- Many thought-provoking themes of individualism and ignorance.
- The book is quite short for such an ambitious story.
If you can feel yourself getting that pre-travel itch and feel like you need a good book to satisfy your excitement, try out a few of these fantastic novels which are all based in the beautiful and mystical country of Iceland.
Whether you’re in the mood for a crime thriller, an emotional drama, or even something a little more on the supernatural side, there are so many exciting and memorable Icelandic stories for you to explore.
How To Choose The Right Book Based On Iceland
Urban Or Rural?
For those of us who may have never traveled to Iceland or only seen it in movies or on the news, we will usually imagine it as having large open spaces with glaciers towering over the landscape, however, there are still plenty of vibrant and glamorous cities scattered across the country such as Reykjavík and Kopavogur.
While these densely populated cities are common settings for many authors when writing a book based in Iceland, a lot of these stories will be more suspenseful and dramatic.
On the other hand, the rural villages of Iceland tend to be more closely related to the traditional history and culture of the country, harkening back to times of folktales and mythology, so it can be a good idea to check where a book is set and to know what kind of environment you think would spark your interest more.
Norse mythology plays a very important role in the development of Iceland as a country, however, while some people are utterly fascinated by it and want to learn more about Thor, Loki, and the other Norse gods, some people prefer a much more grounded story.
Some authors will base their entire story around this mythology while others will only make light references to it in order to add some slightly more fantastical elements to the story, so it can be worth reading through the blurb to see how much of it influences the story.
Many authors enjoy writing about the period of the Icelandic Vikings during the 12th and 13th centuries, and there are definitely some very unique fictional or exaggerated depictions of this important part of history that have been told, but they aren’t for everyone.
Just like how there are both stories based on ancient Greek philosophers, and on Modern Greece as we know it today, this is exactly the same with Iceland, so be sure to choose a story that fits the type of period you think you would enjoy reading about the most.
Frequently Asked Questions
Has Literature Always Been Popular In Iceland?
It is said by many that Icelandic people are some of the most well-read individuals in the world, and this isn’t just due to how many amazing authors live there, but also because of the many literary resurgences the country has experienced.
While sacred verses, poems, and very short stories were very prevalent in Iceland from the 13th century onwards, it was right at the beginning of the 19th century that literature and novels really started to take a hold of the country, with many describing this period as the “Literary Revival”.
Therefore, while literature was always a part of Icelandic culture and society ever since the time of the Vikings, it was during the 1830s that the path towards its immense popularity started, with literature and books still being a very important part of Icelandic people’s daily lives to this day.
Who Is The Most Popular Icelandic Author?
While there have been a tremendous amount of well-known authors to come out of Iceland, by far the most popular and well-renowned is Arnaldur Indrioason who published his first book, Sons Of The Dust, in 1997.
While the book is incredibly hard to find nowadays, it was the first story to introduce the signature character that would make an appearance in most of Indrioason’s novels, Detective Erlendur.
While he was gradually receiving more fans since his breakout novel, it was with the release of Jar City in 2000 that his career really took off with the book winning multiple awards and making Indrioason the first Icelandic author to win two literary awards in the same year.
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