by Melvin Burgess
Tor Books, ISBN 0-765-30048-6
Review by James J. Walton

In an extremely dystopian future London has been walled off from the rest of the world for generations to serve as a prison. Warlord Val Volson dreams of uniting the many factions which fight for control of the city. Only a consolidated London has a chance to break out of the prison and perhaps take all of England.

As a first step toward peace Val must follow the time honored tradition of marrying his daughter to Conor, the ruler of a an adjacent and hostile territory. The daughter, 14 year old Signy, is opposed to the idea as are her brothers Sigmund, Hadrian and Ben. But this is business.

The wedding feast has a strange, uninvited visitor, a huge one-eyed humanoid wearing a slouch hat. The visitor gives Sigmund a gift: a knife only he can use.

Of course despite the seemingly happy start to the marriage, there is treachery and Signy finds herself a prisoner as well as a bride, in love with a man who regularly commits horrible crimes.

A cautionary tale, a future history, a re-working of a classic tale, a Science Fiction story, a fantasy novel, all of the above, Bloodtide is a retelling of the first Icelandic Saga. As such, those familiar with the source material will know the basic direction of this novel but, as has been said many times, sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

Burgess takes us on a surreal journey through landscapes populated by genetically engineered halfmen, part human and part animal du jour, shapshifting cats, armies of dogmen and a pigman or two. All under the control, directly and indirectly, of Norse gods come back to reclaim what is theirs.

But are they really gods? Is the one-eyed humanoid with the slouch hat really Odin returned to Earth or is he a cleverly crafted machine housing an extremely powerful artificial intelligence? Is that really Loki prowling the battle fields or a robot?

To the mere mortals who must bleed suffer and die it makes little difference. They are wise enough to know they cannot distinguish between advanced science and magic.

Just like the Volsunga Saga, Bloodtide is a very violent tale. Life is extremely cheap and death is quite casual. The bloodshed is rarely graphic but Bloodtide may not be for everyone.

Burgess does not stay 100% within the confines of the saga. The final destination is the same but he takes a slightly different route. As a result several of the characters appear much more ruthless and bloodthirsty than they might in a straight retelling and a certain air of mystery is added, enriching the plot.

At the end of Bloodtide we have resolution to a few salient points but thesemake other issues even more mysterious.

Since there are several more Icelandic sagas, I expect Burgess to continue his tale of the Volsons and what they become.

My only general displeasure is none of Mr. Burgess' other novels appear to be available in the United States. A pity. I suspect I'd enjoy them as much as I enjoyed Bloodtide.

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