Thorarinn Gunnarsson,
Song of the Dwarves
(Ace, 1988)

Thorarinn Gunnarsson penned two novels drawn from the Norse cycle of mythology. The first, Song of the Dwarves, tells a fantastical origin of the Norse gods, as beings of pure energy who moved through space until they came to Earth (Midhgardh) and took physical form to guide the lives of the creatures they found there.

The first part of the story is a space fantasy, spinning a yarn about the Norse gods I never heard before or since. Soon, though, the book travels more familiar paths; as Odhinn, Thor, Loki and the rest settle into their new forms, they likewise develop mortal traits such as pride, vanity and a certain amount of scheming. Many of the stories that follow will be familiar to any fan of Norse mythology, such as the forging of Thor's hammer, the birth and binding of the Fenrir wolf, and Thor's various adventures among the giants of Jotunheim. Gunnarsson -- not, as I understand it, his real name -- tells the stories well, a version I read and enjoyed several times over the years.

The book ends with the story of Ottar, a shape-changer, and his inadvertent death at the hands of Loki while on a journey with Odhinn and Thor. A simple matter of weregild for the boy's death turns dire when Loki, loathe to spend his own gold on the matter, steals from a miserly dwarf and uncovers the Rhinegold, a powerful nugget of power that soon is made into a ring and provided much inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's fabled ring of power. The ring in this story destroys many mortals and causes havoc in the world until it is finally secured -- at least for a few generations -- in the keeping of a mighty dragon.

I often thought the title of the book was odd -- it's not really about dwarves, who play only occasional minor roles in the story -- but it's a good read for Norse enthusiasts. This isn't the best version of the mythology that I've read, but it has the benefit of taking a fresh look at the stories and expanding them to incorporate new ideas about the gods and their various deeds.

The book was followed by one sequel, Revenge of the Valkyrie, which tells the Volsung saga. Its ending suggests a third book was planned, but it was never published.

book review by
Tom Knapp

25 March 2017

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