Thorarinn Gunnarsson,
Revenge of the Valkyrie
(Ace, 1989)

After Thorarinn Gunnarsson's Song of the Dwarves, I was eager to continue the author's fresh look at Scandinavian mythology. The saga continues in Revenge of the Valkyrie -- which, like Song, is not a very apt title, since the book mostly isn't about the Valkyrie, nor is it about much revenge. The cover, too, has nothing to do with the story within, although the dwarves, dragon and treasure it shows would surely attract the interest of any fan of high fantasy. (And that, at least, makes sense, since the Norse myths provided a great deal of inspiration for The Lord of the Rings.)

This book focuses almost exclusively on the Volsung saga -- a race of wolf-like people sired by Odhinn for the eventual purpose of reclaiming the Rhinegold, a powerful ring guarded by a powerful dragon. We never get to that part of the story, however; Revenge is about the generations of the Volsungs as they settle far from human settlements, take mates, raise children and so on. The Volsungs, named for the first of their kind, don't have much luck, but they have the benefit of being resurrected whenever they die and being given immortal lives in Alfheim, the realm of the elves.

The generation of Sigmund and Signy -- and their ill-fated brothers -- is the crux of the tale, and it's here that one of the Valkyrie, Brynhild, becomes an important part of the plot. First sent to watch and protect the Volsungs, she becomes deeply involved in their story, even to the point of defying Odhinn's decrees.

For which she will be punished. The story of Sigurdh and Brynhild -- and perhaps Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods themselves -- was no doubt meant to be the plot of the third book in Gunnarsson's series, but the book never was published. And that's a shame.

At least we have Song of the Dwarves and Revenge of the Valkyrie, two slim but packed books that give the Norse cycle new life. They're well written and fun to read, and they remain true to their source material without adhering slavishly to versions that came before.

book review by
Tom Knapp

13 May 2017

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