Stephen Grundy
Rhinegold (1994)
Reviewed: 1996-09-24

While there are a great many books based on the Arthurian legend, the most popular Germanic epic suffers from amazing neglect. Drawing from, in increasing order of faithfulness, historical facts, the German Nibelungenlied, and the Scandinavian Völsunga Saga, Stephen Grundy sets out to remedy this lack of publicity with his monumental novel Rhinegold, an epic retelling of the Germanic sagas chronicling the descent and life of Sigifrith (Siegfried) the Dragon-Slayer and the fall of the Burgundian royal house. Ill is the luck brought on by the possession of the Rhein's cursed gold treasure.

The tale follows for several generations the affairs of two modestly convoluted and intertwining family lines. Set in an era where human life is more fragile and where death before old age is commonplace and even desirable, the reader's interest is held by a sheer endless sequence of killings and murders, maimings and torture, greed and deceit, treason and recursive revenge, rape and incest, poisoning and cannibalism, and various instances of dark magic, both within and without the family. Alas, I found the book overly long, the plot meandering with little aim, and the book altogether increasingly tedious. Grundy tries hard to describe a culture very different from the current Western one, a culture lost long ago when Nordic mythology was obliterated by Christian missionaries. Despite the copious page count, characterization is somehow lost along the way, making it hard to care for what unpleasantness will befall the protagonists next.

Rhinegold is a valiant effort, extensively researched, but as a novel it falls flat. If you are already roughly familiar with the Nibelungenlied and not a particular fan of heroic fantasy, you will probably be far less impressed than seriously bored in the end.

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