Bloodsong by Melvin Burgess, sequel / companion to Bloodtide. Copy supplied by publisher. The first image is the UK version; the second is the US version. Review based on uncorrected book proof.
The Plot: Sigurd is born to be a hero; and Bloodsong begins with Sigurd facing the classic hero quest: slay the dragon.
The Good: Loved it. A Best Book for 2007.
Bloodtide and Bloodsong are set in a future that's barely recognizable. It's a post--apocalyptic world that is as bloody and brutal as anything out of the medieval past. It's a world of death and violence. Science has made magic real; with cloning and machines, and "magic rings" studied under microscopes.
Yet magic is not lost; gods such as Odin and Loki are real (or are they the result of some high tech machine?) For example, Sigurd says he is born to do great things: "You think I'm arrogant; I'm not. I was made for this -- literally. My father designed me for it. Every gene in my body was picked for this purpose. My mother brought me up for it; the gods shaped me as the keystone for this time and place. It's no credit to me. I have less choice than anyone." Magical swords coexist with people that are part pig and part dog because of DNA manipulation.
Bloodsong is about adventure; love; greatness; weakness. It is bloody and violent and heartless. And it's realistic, in the sense that things don't always work out they way you think they should or the way you want them to. Bloodsong takes some unexpected twists and turns, changing the story entirely. I never knew what was going to happen next, which is refreshing. And it's why I won't tell anything of the plot beyond Sigurd is off to slay a dragon.
Burgess often shifts POV; mixing it up, so sometimes it's first person, other times third person, and it's not consistent. It's a bit unsettling at first; but it works because it means that, despite the UK cover ("one hero. one kingdom. one chance to make it his own"), there is no one hero; we see Sigurd's view of himself, as well as how others view him; we get into the heads of all the characters, as well as seeing them more objectively. Which makes the violence, the betrayals, the hope and lost hope all the more real and all the more heart-shattering.
The US cover says "a legacy's final heir. a country's only hope." As mentioned above, Burgess provides a slick mix of Sigurd being the heir and the hope not just because the gods say so, but also because Sigurd himself has been genetically engineered to be heir and hope.
Do you have to read Bloodtide to read Bloodsong? No; I read Bloodtide when it first came out and had forgotten much of the details. While I want to reread it, I didn't have the time. No worries; while there are some connections I may have missed, for the most part Bloodsong stands alone. Actually, anyone reading Bloodtide expecting a true sequel may be disappointed; Bloodsong does not continue the story of Bloodtide, but rather tells the story of Sigurd, son of Sigmund, one of the characters in Bloodtide. It's like first reading the story of Henry II and then reading a book about Richard I.
While my copy of Bloodsong didn't mention it, these books are based on the Volsunga Saga. Many of the names are the same; others are close: Sigurd is a Volson, for example. Those of you familiar with the saga will be less surprised than I at the twists and turns of Sigurd's story, and instead will take greater enjoyment at how that story is reborn, retold and reimagined.
Links, all of which refer to the source material so all are highly spoilerific
The Story of the Volsungs (Volsunga Saga)
More on the Volsunga saga.
Interview with author. (video interview)