After the fall;Children's books;Features and arts

26th November 1999 at 00:00
BLOODTIDE. By Melvin Burgess. Andersen Press. pound;14.99

Some 70 pages before the end of Bloodtide, Siggy, one of the principal characters, takes a look at his life. His two brothers have been fed to a pig, his father has been slaughtered, he has committed incest with his sister Signy, now a concubine, and, in spite of coming from a proud family, he is in the care of an aged hag, half woman and half animal.

It is a heady mixture which, while indicative of the overall tone of Burgess's story, amounts to only a fraction of this strange, complex and occasionally frightening novel for mature teenagers.

Bloodtide's literary ancestor is the Icelandic Volsunga saga, the original setting being transferred to a London two centuries or so into the forthcoming millennium. Democratic rule has long disappeared and rival thuggish gangs compete for dominance.

The focus is on the Volsons and the Conors and the betrayal, duplicity and savagery that eventually leads to victory for one of them.

This is a society where life is cheap. Emotions are raw, passions are elemental and the forces unleashed by such developments as genetic engineering are seen to be disfiguring and destructive.

The relationship between twins Siggy and Signy, both Volsons, lies at the centre of the narrative. It is the tracking of the sequence of their separations and reunions that provides Burgess with most of his material and with some of his most painfully harrowing scenes, starting with their father's decision to enforce 14-year-old Signy's marriage to arch-rival Conor. The alleged intention - to boost a treaty betweeen the warring factions - strikes the note of deception that dominates ensuing events.

With its large cast and loose plot, Bloodtide makes no concessions to young readers. But it will, reflecting its saga origins, raise for them fundamental questions about what one of the book's many narrators refers to as "the plans of the gods, the twists of fate" .

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