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By The Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear

01/10/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy By The Mountain Bound in the USA - or Buy By The Mountain Bound in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 318 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $32.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1883-1.

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'By The Mountain Bound' is a prequel to 'All The Windwracked Stars' to which I gave a fairly bad review a while back. The main issue with that book was that I wasn't quite sure what was going on, though it all seemed very interesting. This prequel makes it a bit clearer what was going on. Perhaps there is a certain mystique in releasing books in the wrong order to confuse the reader. Perhaps it's art. In any case, I recommend you read this prequel before the sequel. You will then enjoy the sequel more than I did.

There is much to enjoy in both, to be fair. Elizabeth Bear is an excellent writer. Her prose style seems a bit choppy to start with but you soon get used to it and she certainly gets under your skin. The book stayed with me overnight during the reading and I dreamt of Norse Gods, Wyrrms and wolves. Happily I did not dream of love between two men.

Yes, love between two men or gods is at the heart of this story. When the old gods died there arose new gods, formed from starlight they arose from the sea, each with a crystal sword in his or her hand and they lived for battle, which was fun because they were practically immortal and very hard to kill. Mingan is a wolfish warrior who does not fit in that well with his fellow einherjar and waelcyrge, boys and girls, except for their leader Strifbjorn with whom he fits in rather more intimately than is usual between men. (I won't risk abusive e-mails to Uncle Geoff by using the pejorative term 'normal'.) Love between warriors is certainly not unknown in martial cultures as the Spartans were famous for it but I haven't come across it in Norsemen before. Mingan is Fenris the wolf re-incarnated, he who ate the sun and the all-father Odin at Ragnarok but the new gods’ memories are vague about the past so they don't know this. Yet they are generally uneasy in his company, even Muir, the quiet rather weedy historian waelcyrge who quite likes him and simply adores Strifbjorn.

At the start of the book, everything is hunky-dory with this happy breed. The humans respect them and mostly leave them alone. Sometimes they punish human criminals with a kiss, by which means they suck a lot of life-force out of them, though never all of it. The gods only kiss each other when they get married because by kissing they share their souls. Then Strifbjorn finds a lady washed up on the beach. Heythe is so powerful she can even whip the formidable Mingan in a fight. She tells the gods that the giants also survived Ragnarok and are massing an army to attack. She suggests that they start kissing humans and take all their life-force to get more strength for the humans are only sheep. Strifbjorn, noble chap, is against this. The Einherjar and Waelcyrge split into two factions. Cue conflict.

'By The Mountain Bound' and 'All The Windwracked Stars' are both memorable and interesting books that linger in the mind. Elizabeth Bear is indubitably a talented writer. I would like to recommend both heartily but hesitate because I'm not sure they would suit everyone. Obviously, any chaps made uncomfortable by 'the love that dare not speak its name' might not like this one. Moreover, there is an air of artiness about the work, a bit of vagueness. Things are hinted at. Not everything is set out absolutely clearly and the ending of both books leaves you wondering a bit what exactly happened. Many readers and in general, I count myself among them, like things set out plainly and these novels might annoy such. I think the stories and the prose and the overall pleasure derived compensates for this 'flaw' but not everyone will agree.

Eamonn Murphy

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