Reynard, a young apprentice, seeks release from the drudgery of working for his fisherman uncle in the English village of Southwold. His rare days off lead him to strange encounters—not just with press gangs hoping to fill English ships to fight the coming Spanish Armada, but strangers who seem to know him—one of whom casts a white shadow.
The village’s ships are commandeered, and after a fierce battle at sea, Reynard finds himself the sole survivor of his uncle’s devastated hoy. For days he drifts, starving and dying of thirst, until he is rescued by a galleon, also lost—and both are propelled by a strange current to the unknown northern island of Thule. Here Reynard must meet his destiny in a violent clash between humans and gods.
With this apocalyptic Elizabethan fantasy, Hugo and Nebula award-winner Bear (Blood Music) combines Irish myth, Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series into a circuitous trudge that neglects plot for prophecy. Fisherman Reynard Shotwood, 15, the sole survivor of a battle with the Spanish Armada, is rescued from his wrecked boat by a Spanish warship and lands on the mythic, monster-festooned islands of Tir Na Nog. Tir Na Nog's warring factions recognize Reynard as the bearer of a mysterious destiny central to their survival though he must remain ignorant of his fate. To fulfill his purpose, Reynard searches the islands for the alien Crafters even as colonizing Spanish forces and slaving Eastern queens work to destroy the Crafters' technologically advanced works. Bear's prose is impressive, but readers may struggle to make sense of his surrealist dreamscapes and inconsistently applied Early Modern English. When the stylistic layers are peeled back, they reveal a disappointingly trope-ridden core: an overskilled young white man fighting against women and people of color to defend the technological wonders of Western civilization. This parable's expired punch line proves not worth the journey.