In Rhinegold (1994), Grundy offered a life of Sigifrith (Wagner's Siegfried) combining anthropology and magical fantasy. Here, he recounts the early life of Hagan, who appeared in the previous book as the slayer of Sigifrith. Dour and warlike, and a staunch upholder of the old gods, young Hagan is sent as a ``foster son'' (i.e., hostage) to the camp of Attila the Hun. Hagan adapts well to the life of the camp, bonding with a fellow hostage, Waldhari, a Christianized Frank, and at the same time taking instruction from the Hun's shaman. The prowess of the two young men in battle pleases Attila, but the arrival of Hildegund, a young Gothic Christian woman whom Attila intends to wed, disrupts everything. Because of her religion and her civilized ways, she is horrified by Attila- -especially when he brings her three severed heads of Christians slain in battle as tokens of his esteem. Grundy builds up the Huns' society and religion in convincing detail throughout, as Waldhari and Hildegund eventually fall afoul of the jealous Attila. Their escape into a winter storm, carrying off his treasure, precipitates the final crisis, in which Hagan, one of the last upholders of Gothic ways against the inroads of Christianity, is forced to choose between two loyalties. The heavy irony of his final choice is that it's taken in defense of two Christians who have broken (under great provocation, to be fair) all the laws and customs of the old ways he defends. As in his previous novel, Grundy is often more taken with piling up anthropological detail than with forwarding plot, but he has a fine sense for battle scenes, and his portrayal of the pagan vision of a living universe is both convincing and emotionally effective. Strong anthropological fantasy, with well-drawn characters and great insight into the clash of cultures at a crucial point in history.
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