cover image Wolf and the Raven

Wolf and the Raven

Diana L. Paxson. William Morrow & Company, $21 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-688-10821-2

The legend of Siegfried and Brunhilde--popularized in Icelandic sagas, the medieval German epic Nibelungenlied and Wagner's operas--is imaginatively retold in this lyrical narrative, the first installment of a projected trilogy. Tapping the myth's archaic sources and using alternate spellings for his characters' names, Paxson ( The Serpent's Tooth ) creates an untamed, down-to-earth young Sigfrid who studies shamanism, runs with a wolf pack and asks his beloved Brunahild, ``What do you need a hero for anyway?'' The self-searching Brunahild, a budding sorceress, belies the stereotype of the Wagnerian soprano with brass bra and winged helmet, although she does attend a Valkyrie training school and wear a raven-winged headdress. With her knowledge of herbs, runes and spells comes understanding, then love. As in Wagner, the theft of a treasure is the source of evil, but nonetheless the lovers achieve their long-desired union at the novel's close. Set in a fifth-century Rhineland aswarm with migrant tribes, gods and spirits, Paxson's detailed retelling distills an exotic brew from the famous myth. (Apr.)