Originally conceived as a Phd thesis, Burial Rites is a well-researched and highly readable novel about the final days of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman in Iceland to be executed. Author Hannah Kent uses a vast amount of historical records and legends to examine and explore what may have happened leading up to the murders of Natan Ketilsson and his houseguest Petur Jonsson, and the months that followed until Agnes's execution, to create an absorbing tale set against a backdrop of poverty and a cold, unforgiving climate.
Despite the depressing ending (after all, the reader knows from the outset that this novel is going to end with the beheading of the protagonist,) I thoroughly enjoyed reading Burial Rites. Agnes is presented as a well-rounded character. Who Agnes really is, and who those near her believe her to be, are shown to be two very separate things. It was interesting to watch her friendships with Margret and Toti develop over the course of the story.