The Fires

Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir

Translated by Larissa Kyzer

Amazon Crossing 2023


In the novel, “The Fires,” volcanologist Anna Arnardóttir relies on science to forecast volcanoes and earthquakes in Iceland. But she may have made the biggest error of her life by ignoring her own instincts.

Amazingly, four months after author Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir’s novel was first published in 2020, an actual volcano erupted on the Reykjanes Peninsula, not far from her fictional eruption. “Thus did science blend with fiction,” she writes, and her novel, now translated into English, became part of reality.

… blends scientific information and ancient myths …

Arnardóttir considered herself extremely fortunate; she was highly respected as a professor of volcanology and director of the Institute of Earth Sciences, and with a perfect family — a loving husband and two children. Her father, who first mapped Iceland’s gravity field, was her mentor.

The book begins with an unusual earth eruption Arnardóttir’s scientific models could not explain. She and several of her colleagues kept saying this was different, and they had a premonition based on their experience and knowledge that the next eruption would be devastating. Arnardóttir feels it too but her models can’t prove anything different is occurring below the crust of the earth. So instead she caves into local politicians who want her to tone down the dangers of a potential volcanic eruption because it would hurt tourism.

As she and her colleagues continue to visit different sites taking samples and monitoring, she meets a photographer who brings to the surface emotions she’s never felt before. She is like the quivering earth on uncharted territory. But her love for Tomas Adler is confusing her judgement; she filled with guilt, yet overwhelmed with the burning sensations of a love she didn’t think she was capable of as a scientist.

This book is more than a thriller and love story. It’s an education about Iceland and nearby islands, its creation, and how geography continues to change due to volcanoes. Björnsdóttir blends scientific information and ancient myths about earthquakes and volcanoes, using her main character to explain: “Everything on earth came into being in a volcanic eruption.” She also details the different types of intrusions that break the surface of the earth like “a zipper opening” on the earth’s crust. The reader will know from the outset that this story will have a tragic end, and that’s what makes the book so riveting.