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Burgess, Melvin

Entry updated 13 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1954-    ) UK author of Young Adult novels, some of them controversial, like Doing It (2003), which focuses unrelentingly on teenage obsession with sex, and upon teenage male misogyny. Much of his work is of genre interest. The young protagonist of An Angel for May (1992), which was filmed as An Angel for May (2002), travels by Timeslip to the Britain of World War Two, which almost swallows him; he is saved by a damaged girl named May, who is left behind to live through the bad years to 1992; Burning Issy (1992), which is nonfantastic, is based on the "Pendle witches" from Lancashire, who were tried (and mostly convicted) in 1612. The Earth Giant (1995) for younger children depicts an encounter with a mysterious giant trapped Underground, who must be saved. The young girl at the heart of Tiger, Tiger (1996) uses her Shapeshifter powers to exact revenge upon poachers who have killed a family of tigers in a Yorkshire zoo. A live boy and a ghost team up together in The Ghost Behind the Wall (2000) to spook other city dwellers. The sexually-active young protagonist of Lady: My Life as a Bitch (2001) is transformed into a female dog in heat, and enjoys her liberation.

At least three titles are of specific sf interest. The Dystopia Britain has become in the Near Future gives the protagonists and kidnapped victim of The Baby and Fly Pie (2003) little opportunity to avoid the anarchy outside the gigantic garbage tip where they make their home and earn their living. The Volsunga/Bloodtide sequence, comprising Bloodtide (1999) and Bloodsong (2005), is set several centuries further into the future, in a battered London isolated from the surrounding Ruined Earth. Some of the separate sections are narrated in a language modestly reminiscent of the massively estranged diction of Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker (1981), and provide a possible model for the slightly less adventurous gonzo flow of Will Self's The Book of Dave (2006). Most of the action revolves around family romance feuds based on the thirteenth-century Iceland Völsungasaga or Volsunga Saga, which was earlier adapted by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) into The Ring Cycle (four operas, composed 1848-1874). The meliorist protagonist of the first volume, who attempts to found a civil state, is dead by volume two, though his children's incestuous relationship inevitably darkens any family attempts to achieve a just state. The tale is complicated by Shapeshifter Mutants and dangerous vestiges of ancient science. As in almost all of Burgess's work, there is no easy ending. Loki (2022), his first novel specifically for adult readers, is told in first person by the god, who claims to tell the truth, as always. [JC]

see also: Carnegie Medal.

Melvin Burgess

born London: 25 April 1954




  • Bloodtide (London: Andersen Press, 1999) [Volsunga/Bloodsong: hb/Nick Stearn]
  • Bloodsong (London: Andersen Press, 2005) [Volsunga/Bloodsong: hb/uncredited]

Ruled Britannia

  • Three Bullets (London: Andersen Press, 2021) [Ruled Britannia: hb/]

individual titles


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