Prior to this I had not read anything by Nancy Farmer, although I do own the multiple-award-winning The House of the Scorpion. I'll probably read that soon enough. I listened to this one as a Recorded Books audio production, read by Gerard Doyle.
The plot: After being captured by berserkers from the north in the late 700's A.D., Jack and his young sister Lucy are forced on a journey to meet the terrible Queen Frith and her husband, King Ivar the Boneless (who was a real person). Jack attempts to sing her an epic song of praise but accidentally curses the queen and makes her hair fall out. In exchange for his life, Jack agrees to embark upon an extremely dangerous journey to Jotunheim, the fabled land of trolls, dragons, enormous spiders, and deadly magic. If he returns within a certain amount of time, Frith will spare his life as well as that of Lucy, whom she intends to sacrifice to the goddess Freya when Jack fails to return.
The book never gets dull for a second, and is filled with mythical things and references to the saga of Beowulf and to that of Sigurd. The writing is very good and it is truly fascinating. I particularly like the scene at Yggdrasil, which I seem to recall from Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. It had something similar, if not that, but I think it was Yggdrasil. The means of obtaining water from Mimir's Well reminded me a bit of the Fountain of Youth in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - but this book came out in 2004, I believe, and so before Pirates. I won't spoil why - you'd have to read it! But this book was a hit with me, and I believe it has two sequels. I ought to read them as well.