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War of the Gods

A book by Poul Anderson

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The final third redeems all!

  • Feb 15, 1998
The text begins interestingly enough, albeit somewhat ponderously, as Poul Anderson, one of the greats of Science Fiction & Fantasy, essays once more to travel the mist-shrouded roads of Faery. Writing at least since the fifties (I enjoyed his stuff going back to the sixties), Anderson's "voice" seems to have mellowed and subtly altered with the passing of the years. Never one of the most moving or most profound of tale spinners, he was always, nevertheless, the consummate storyteller. Still this present tale lacks the energy and vitality of his earlier saga-like excursions. While The Broken Sword leaped with life and blood and darkness and Hrolf Kraki's Saga (basically a translation of a legendary Danish-Norse tale, with some additions by the author to make it more contemporary) charged onward from episode to episode until crashing mightily on the rocks of it's own climactic shore, this new tale seems oddly stilted and self-conscious. The language does not pour forth, carrying the reader over the unsure ground of fantasy, as Anderson was wont to do in former days, and the characters he has given us here seem paler than in the past -- and not nearly as interesting as their predecessors were. The protagonist, Hadding the Dane-King, for instance, moves sluggishly from one odd episode to another, always winning his battles and defeating his foes, never seeming to be in any serious danger at all, a circumstance which ultimately seems to tell on him as much as it does on us. And the people around him, as well as his enemies, never seem to be quite worthy of the attention he lavishes on them. Fostered by giants of old Norse legend and lover to his own foster mother (or sister) who adopts human form to be with him, guided by a mysterious one-eyed "wanderer", Hadding ought to be more multi-faceted than the invincible, noble hero we are given. Through much of this tale only the relatively easy-read prose (despite the incorporation of archaic words and forms to set the mood) and the intrinsically promising subject-matter (for those of us who like the Norse thing) keeps you reading. Written stolidly and with far more description than one is likely to find in the real Icelandic and Norse stuff, the tale yet retains the sleepy, dream-like presentation of events and images which is so characteristic of this material in its original form -- a form in which giants are never quite giants as we understand them (for they seem larger or smaller depending on their surroundings) and gods walk about like magicians. Nevertheless, Anderson has here created a tale which, surprisingly and for all its apparent faults, does stand up -- and admirably so, in the end. It is a story of sadness and, finally, understanding -- sketched against a backdrop of adventure and fighting and killing. The last part of the book redeems the slowness and awkward-seeming "forced" prose that went before as the truth of the tale is relentlessly brought home -- how a single life may be more than its appearance alone and how the worlds of fantasy and reality may intersect afterall. It's just a story, Anderson says in his afterword and, indeed, it is that -- but a story which reached me in a largely unexpected way. It takes an historical legend from much earlier times and revives it in a manner which does honor to the source material from which it is drawn while yet placing it in a perspective we moderns can grasp. As The Broken Sword was, no doubt, a young man's breathless and headlong tale (Anderson himself once suggested this in a foreword he'd written somewhat later to that book), so this one is the work of another writer entirely -- one who has lived his life and seen the fullness of it and its inevitable denouement. This one goes deeper than it seemed at the first. And redeems itself, and all of us, for that.

Stuart W. Mirsky
Author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #233
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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Veteran pro Anderson (The Fleet of Stars, p. 26, etc.) offers a Dark Age saga based on Old Scandinavian mythology and the exploits of the legendary Danish King Hadding (cf. Bernard King's Starkadder, 1989). Following a disastrous war of the gods between the Aesir and the Vanir, the Vanir Njord becomes an implacable foe of the Aesir and their chief, Odin. So Odin arranges for Njord's avatar to be born in the world of men as Hadding, son of King Gram Skjoldung of Denmark. To ensure his safety, young Hadding is sent to live with a family of jotuns, or giants. Meanwhile, Svipdag, King of Geatland and Svithjod (Sweden), invades Denmark and kills Gram. Later, helped by a disguised Odin, Hadding overcomes Svipdag, but the latter's son Uffi retains control of Geatland and Svithjod, and the blood feud between them drags on for years. Eventually, after many further adventures, Hadding will relinquish his kingdom to his hotheaded children and give himself to Odin, thereby ending the dispute among the gods. Anderson writes in a modern Anglo- Saxon, full of words that long ago vanished from English; and if readers are sent scurrying to consult dictionaries and encyclopedias--so much the better. A brilliantly accomplished yarn that smolders bravely without quite catching fire. --Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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ISBN-10: 0312863152
ISBN-13: 978-0312863159
Author: Poul Anderson
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
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