Thursday, August 26, 2010

Melvyn Burgess: Bloodsong

I’m struggling a little to condense/describe Bloodsong, one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read this year. I mean, a mixture of science fiction and Norse mythology … how does one even begin?
I’d never heard of Melvin Burgess before my daughter came home with this after her work experience job in Uppsala English Bookshop (which, by the way, has moved during the summer into larger and roomier premises, worth a visit!) – nor had she, it was just a chance pick. But apparently he’s not nobody, and his first book in this particular saga (Bloodtide) made quite a splash. Of blood, presumably, because this is gory stuff, just like the Icelandic epics it’s based on. Now, I do wish I’d read Bloodtide first, only because I think it might be easier to sink into the alternative world then. And I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly why I had to read a good bit to really get involved until I read Bloodtide, so it’s a bit of a Catch 22 really. Is it a flaw in the storytelling I mean, or is it just sequel-sickness, assuming that you know stuff you don’t know? On the other hand I like books that just chuck me into the action, don’t I … anyway, I’ll just have to read it too and get back to you.

This is set in a future, or possibly alternative reality, in which cloning, genetic engineering and a whole bunch of other technology has become very advanced, so advanced that in most countries it seems to be banned. Not in Britain however, and because of this the island has been isolated from the rest of the world. Home to many different human or human/animal hybrid clans, it is ravaged by civil wars and skirmishes. Sigurd knows that he is born to unite the clans – not only because his father was the last king who succeeded in doing so, until Odin took his hand away from him, but also because his father genetically engineered him for the task. Thanks to this, everyone loves Sigurd and will follow him. So Sigurd decides that his first quest will be to kill the dragon Fafnir. Not a “real” dragon of course, but a man who has genetically enhanced and improved himself and who is reportedly impossible to kill. Well, Sigurd does it, and dies himself in the process, which he goes on to do three more times in various ways. During the rest of the story, as he becomes a leader and unites the people, he meets three different women, one he loves, one who steals his soul, and one he eventually marries, and it’s really quite heart-breaking. And just like an Icelandic saga it doesn’t end well. At all.

I am captivated by the whole idea and by the execution, but I don’t know if I loved the experience of reading it. It is remarkably non-compromising for a book labelled young adults – frank and gory bloodshed, equally frank and open-minded sex (what else can you call it when a part-lion human king has sex with, variously, the daughter of Odin, a part-dog man and the latter’s sister?) and a stark adherence to the rules of the Icelandic saga. I truly applaud the concept of it, yet put it down with a little niggling feeling that I’d missed something. I must get someone else to read it to see if they can figure it out. Recommended, though! Absolutely.

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