book review, fantasy, Joseph Sale

Joseph Sale Month: Across the Bitter Sea

As a fan of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, I was introduced to the Kalevala by the episode where Joel and the bots are given The Day the Earth Froze as their experiment. The English version of the Finnish movie is almost impossible to follow, with much fun made of the magical Sampo (if you know what a Sampo is, write it on a piece of paper and throw it out).

Therefore, I chuckled every time I read about the Sampo in Sale’s Across the Bitter Sea, a sequel of sorts to the Kalevala.

At the end of the Finnish folktale, the magical musician, Vainamoinen, leaves the world after being presented with the child, Kaleria, to bless.

Sale picks up the story sometime after this event with Kaleria, now a grown man, waging war against the kind hearted country folk. Ilmarinen, the magical smithy who made the Sampo, is held captive by the Hag, and Lemminkainen has his own problems that cause him to seek out Vainamoinen.

A departure from his usual style, Across the Bitter Sea reads like a traditional epic fantasy with just a bit of earthiness sprinkled in.

The original Kalevala must have inspired many authors, because there are echoes of Tolkien, Lewis, and even The Princess Bride in the fantasy imagery of the tale. Vainamoinen, the singing godman, has inspired many and may even have been the inspiration behind Gandalf. I wonder if he played a part in the formation of a certain character in Sale’s more recent work, Dark Hilarity.

I love how Sale breaks fresh ground with older works, be it his modern take on Beowulf with the novella Grim, this sequel to the Kalevala, or his completion of Spenser’s Faerie Queene in Virtue’s End.

Across the Bitter Sea is an engrossing fantasy tale that will convince you it is a recorded legend from an earlier century.

I award Across the Bitter Sea

9 thoughts on “Joseph Sale Month: Across the Bitter Sea”

  1. This sounds fantastic. Have you ever read Jonas Lie? He wrote up a bunch of these nordic fairy tales which are absolutely amazing. Apparently he was one of Roald Dahl’s favorite authors. I need to read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am now very tempted to re-visit The Kalevala. It’s funny you have noticed my tendency to re-imagine epic tales. I suppose deep down I don’t really believe they can be topped. In the words of Hideo Kojima, “Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.” Thank you for your amazing and insightful reviews, Iseult!

    Liked by 1 person

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