The Sea Thy Mistress: Brings Norse mythology to life

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Elizabeth Bear By the Mountain BoundThe Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear

The Sea Thy Mistress is the third book of the The Edda of Burdens, which I believe, is a trilogy. It picks up after the ending of the first book, All the Windwracked Stars. (The events in book 2, By the Mountain Bound, are the actual beginning of the story.)

Fifty years after Muire has ascended to become the Bearer of Burdens — a goddess that is one with the Wyrm that dwells in the ocean — she gives birth to a son. The infant is found on the beach by the cyborg Aethelred, a priest of Muire who was once a bartender. At the time the child’s father, Cahey — Muire’s former lover turned Einherjar — is off wandering the previously apocalyptic world, performing his task of protecting and helping the new human settlements. So are the moreau, human-animal hybrids, which were released from bondage by Muire. Meanwhile, the only remaining original Einherjar, Mingan and the two-headed war-steed named Kasimir, prepare for the return of their ancient enemy, who has come back across the rainbow bridge. Heythe’s plans to end the world were halted in All the Windwracked Stars, so she’s come back to finish what she started. The child is her key to defeating Muire and the, now, too few Einherjar.

Ms. Bear’s style, at least in this series, verges on the melodramatic. I’d go so far as to say it pushes the boundary between epic and romantic fantasy. There are a lot of broken hearts and a lot of pining over lost loves, which is something I’d usually steer well clear of. In fact, if someone had mentioned these elements to me, I’d never have picked up The Edda of Burdens. Am I ever glad no one did, because this is a very beautifully written book. Elizabeth Bear’s prose and language almost begs to be read aloud. It reads so effortlessly that it’s almost poetic.

The characters are very flawed, but are only more endearing for it. Those flaws are exemplified by the fact that they are now the Einherjar, which are warrior angels. I mentioned in my review of All the Windwracked Stars how interesting the concept of “angels of a dead god” is. In The Sea Thy Mistress this idea has changed somewhat. Now it’s about reincarnated angels of a new god that guard over a reborn world and how they must deal with a devious enemy from a primeval past — an enemy that’s powerful enough to have destroyed worlds and defeated them all, rather easily, the first time around.

Still, those things are not what completely won me over. The Edda of Burdens is based on Norse mythology, but it’s more like it is Norse mythology, or as if this is how those legends should be. It’s like Bear has uncovered a lost Viking artifact and deciphered runes that contained previously unknown details about the beings that fight the battle of Raknarok and what comes after. She brings the mythos to life and projects it into an alternate future.

The Edda of Burdens — (2008.-2010) Steampunk alternate future. Publisher: In the beginning was the end of the world. The children of the Light and the fallen Tarnished met at the edge of the great ice, and there they warred and died. Brother fought brother; lover slew lover. And when it was done, and the snow drifted over the blood, three were left: “the one who fled, the one who stood, and the one who walked away.” Muire is a waelcyrge, an immortal maiden of the shield, sworn to defend the Light and to hold a place in the world for the return of the All-Father. But the All-Father never came. And Muire was not like her sisters — she was a historian and a poet, a sculptor and a thinker, littlest and least of her kind. A sparrow among falcons. From afar and quietly, she loved the greatest and brightest of the einherjar, the chosen warriors: Strifbjorn. But her courage failed her, and on the Last Day she fled the armies of the Tarnished, and did not die with her love. Kasimir is a valraven, war-steed of the choosers of the slain. Two-headed, great-hearted, winged and horned for battle. On the Last Day, his rider was killed, and he wounded unto death. But that great heart remains indomitable in defeat as it was in victory, even as it pumps his life-blood into the snow. And Mingan — Mingan is the Grey Wolf, last child of a dead god, grandson of giants. Mingan is old, older than the fallen children, older than the young and dying world. This is not his first apocalypse. He would prefer it to be his last.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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