This is not a happily-ever-after book. It is not a book where love conquers all. It is a book where people make choices, some of them dreadful, and deal with the consequences, not always graciously.
I usually find such books depressing. But this book is not depressing, because through all the sin and sadness there is always the light of God's grace and goodness that reaches us even as we are busy messing things up again. And though all human loves are touched with sin and selfishness, yet through them we catch a glimpse of that divine love.
The book, which I got as one massive tome, is really a trilogy that follows the life of a woman in medieval Norway from birth through death. The medieval setting is vividly real, not a fantasy land but a place where one can imagine human beings enjoying living. The title character is in no danger of achieving sainthood, yet she never loses sight of God entirely, either.
"It seemed to her a mystery that she could not fathom, but which she knew most surely none the less, that God had held her fast in a covenant made for her without her knowledge by a love poured out upon her richly--and in despite of her self-will, in despite of her heavy, earthbound spirit, somewhat of this love had become part of her, had wrought in her like sunlight in the earth, had brought forth increase which not even the hottest flames of fleshly love nor its wildest bursts of wrath could lay waste wholly. A handmaiden of God had she been--a wayward, unruly servant, oftenest an eye-servant in her prayers and faithless in her heart, slothful and neglectful, impatient under correction, but little constant in her deeds--yet had he held her fast in his service, and under the glittering golden ring a mark had been set secretly upon her, showing that she was His handmaid, owned by the Lord and King who was now coming, borne by the priest's anointed hands, to give her freedom and salvation--"
The other characters--her devout father, her dashing but weak-willed husband, her steadfast brother-in-law, her rowdy bunch of sons--are all well-drawn, full, real people. And there is plenty of action--indeed, my only regret over the book is I was often in too great of a haste to find out what happened to stop and savor and understand it. I shall have to read it again sometime. Probably many times.
Many thanks to Semicolon for recommending it.