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Life Death Trust Betrayal Love Hate Destiny Revenge Massacre These are the words that adorn the cover of ‘Bloodtide’, intermingling, repeating, and overlapping. Running your hands over the cover reveals the bloody red footprint emblazoned on the black background is slightly raised, shiny and sticky feeling, a very close resemblance to the texture of coagulating blood. When you begin to read this astonishingly brutal yet tenderly written novel, you understand how appropriate that cover is. ‘Bloodtide’ just about knocked my socks off. It is truly an epic effort, based on the Icelandic Volsunga Saga, about which I know nothing, so I can only comment on Burgess’s futuristic retelling. London is in ruins, ravaged by generations of wars. Hardly any buildings remain whole, those that do are used to house farm animals. The tallest structure still standing is the Galaxy Building, despite its top thirty floors having broken away many years ago. We are introduced to an imposing white-haired man who surveys the wreckage before him from this viewpoint, with his fourteen-year-old daughter. They both have guns - they need them. This is Val Volson; he owns half of London, and the man who owns the other half wants him dead. Two families control the City up to The Wall. Beyond that are the ‘halfman’ lands, where wild abominations of man’s interference with Nature roam. Part animal, part human, part genetically engineered robot, the very utterance of their name causes terror and panic in the City. It is Val Volson’s wish to unite the City, the halfman lands, the wealthy City of Ragnor that lies beyond them, and Europe itself – under his families control. To do this, he suggests a peace treaty between the Volsons and the other ruling ganglord family, the Connors. The key to peace is the daughter who stands by his side, Sign
y. She must give herself to the enemy she has been taught to despise all her life, marry Connor and bring the families together. He is giving his only daughter to a tyrant, and she can’t say she’s thrilled with the situation, but decides to comply with her father’s wishes for The Greater Good… Burgess manages to write about horrific themes in this novel, yet balance this with great tenderness. Signy’s first night alone with her new husband is stunningly described. She wants to hate him, forces herself to be cruel to him, but is bewildered to discover he actually seems very nice. He’s good looking, kind, thoughtful…none of the things an enemy should be. “He was the enemy of decades, the murderer, the man my father had chucked me to as some sort of sacrifice, the way you chuck a morsel of meat to a lion when you want to sneak past it. Here, have this. But…he was sort of sweet all the same. I couldn’t believe I was thinking he was sweet.” Signy has been having nightmares about having to have sex with her enemy, how she should handle the situation. She didn’t know if he would force himself on her and claim his prize, or if she could get away with never having him touch her. Again, her confusion and ultimate decision is wonderfully written – Burgess does not gloss over the facts that many authors would gladly put to one side. He leaps headlong into the prose and makes it real. Burgess uses each chapter to describe events from a different standpoint. One chapter will be narrated in third person; the next will be a first person account from Signy, the next from one of her brothers or Connor himself. This could be utterly confusing and off-putting if it were not handled so beautifully by an author of Burgess’s quality. He makes the characters come alive for the reader; they have very different ways of talking
and thinking, and through these wavering narratives we come to see the whole picture. Will peace reign at last? Will the Volsons or the Connors dare to attack now their heirs are united? Is it all a trick, with Signy and Connor used as puppets? How will Signy’s beloved twin brother, Siggy, come to terms with losing his sister to the enemy? Most of all, what hand do the old Gods, like Odin, have in the affair…what is the Destiny they are hurtling towards? Refer to the list of words that begin this review. There is no black and white in this novel, no Good versus Evil – everything is grey, murky, and mixed-up. Perhaps the greatest theme of all running through the story is that of Trust – the pain of learning to trust, the pain of trust broken. Not a single character remains untouched by these lessons. Burgess is a ruthless, relentless author; he makes the reader wince and put the book down for a while as they gather their feelings again. I have read some gruesome things in my time, but the moment one of the characters is held down and has their hamstrings cut with wire cutters is a moment I wont be forgetting in a hurry. My legs still ache thinking about it now, and I finished reading the book a week ago. If you recognise the name, Burgess also wrote ‘Junk’ – a novel that gained much publicity from people who denounced it as filth peddled to children. I haven’t read that book, but I can only tell you that, whilst Burgess is uncompromising and unflinching in his descriptions, he does not seek to moralise and lecture to his audience. He presents things in a bleak way to let the reader make up their own mind about the situations and characters presented to them. Who is ‘Bloodtide’ aimed at? Older readers, certainly, but this is a confusing term. How old? 12? 30? I would say it depends entirely on the reader. I’m 27 and was shocked, yes, but also thril
led, amused, moved and excited. This is a gripping, gut-churner of a novel, but I urge you to take the leap. I read an interview with Burgess in which he explained the open ending of the novel. It’s based on the first part of the Volsunga Saga, and he wants feedback to help him decide if he should write a second, maybe even a third part of the story…to which I can only answer with a shout: “YES PLEASE!”
An epic retelling of the Icelandic Volsunga Saga by the best-selling author of 'Junk'.