Monday, November 02, 2015

Don't Call It Beantown, or Hotel Valhalla, Where "All the Heroes Are Just Dying to Get In": The Sword of Summer-- Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

"Yo!" I caught the sleeve of Uncle Randolph's coat. "Rewind to the part about a Norse God being my pappy."

We'd stopped at one of the Longfellow Bridge's main towers--a cone of granite rising fifty feet above us. People said the towers looked like giant salt and pepper shakers, but I'd always thought they looked like Daleks from Doctor Who. (So I'm a nerd. Sue me. And, yes, even homeless kids watch TV sometimes--on public library computers, in shelter rec rooms....)

A hundred feet below us, the Charles River glistened steel gray, mottled with snow and ice, like the skin of a massive python.

"Don't you see?" Randolph said. "So many people over the centuries have known. This area wasn't just visited by the Vikings. It was sacred to them. Magnus, the Norse explorers came here searching for the axis of the worlds, the very trunk of the tree Yggdrasil. They found it--"

"We're out of time, Magnus. Extend your hand over the water. The sword is there. Call it. DO IT."

But, of course, it's not as simple as all that. The Summer Sword, sunk in a Viking longboat in the Charles River for a thousand years does rise, barnacled and rusted, but there is the little matter of a fight to the death with the fire demon Surt first, one in which Magnus and the sword take on the demon in a fight to the death. Surt is vanquished, but unfortunately not before he kills Magnus.

Don't you just hate it when the hero dies before you get to page 50?

Fortunately, Magnus and his magic sword are swooped up by a circling valkyrie named Samirah and hauled off to what appears to be the poshest hotel in downtown Boston, the Hotel Valhalla. Inside, the hotel is a whole Norse paradise, where heroes go to live forever. There Magnus is reborn, better than ever, and besides, the food is great, and as he puts it, "the rooms don't suck." Of course, being a hero comes at a price, and Magnus is soon given his own quest--finding the island of Lyngvi, which rises from the sea (somewhere just outside Boston Bay, BTW, in case you were thinking of taking the whale watch cruise) once every thousand years, the island where Fenris Wolf has long been shackled.

Now Fenris is your average ravening wolf, except that he cannot be killed and is currently bound only with Gleipnir, a magical silken rope, maybe just a little century or two past its expiration date. It seems that Magnus and his summer sword named Jack are chosen to subdue and rebind him in the latest enchanted rope, Andskiti, And what happens if Magnus fails to rebind him? Well, just Ragnarok, the final battle between Odin and his heroes and Loki and his giants which will be an apolcalyptic battle, the End of the World. Nobody wants that.

If the plotline of Rick Riordan's new first book in series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer (Hyperion Books, 2015), sounds strangely similar to his earlier best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus and The Kane Chronicles, that's because it is, a fact which will not surprise or deter Riordan's followers in the least. And yes, there's also a cameo by Magnus' cousin, Annabeth Chase, frienemy of Riordin's Percy Jackson. Small world, huh?

Like the Riordan's other heroes, Magnus is a demigod, this time the son of the Norse god Frey and a mortal woman, whose unlikely death in the heart of Boston at the fangs of a pack of wolves, results in Magnus' homeless status and his reasonable distrust of everyone. Like the previous series, Magnus is helped throughout his quest by his own band of brothers, Hearthstone the elf, master of rune magic, Blitzen, the high-fashion dwarf, and Samithra, a.k.a. Sam, the defrocked Valkyrie, not to mention several friendly warrior types recruited at the Hotel Valhalla for major battles.

Aso like Riordan's other heroes, Magnus is a dark, courageous, but occasionally snarky teen who gets his value system from his saintly mortal mother and his godly powers from his mythological father. The dialogue is a witty mashup of hip teenspeak and Asgardian lingo, with smartoff chapter headings like "Freya Is Pretty! She Has Cats!" and "Gunilla Gets Blowtorched and It's Not Funny. Okay, It's a Little Bit Funny." And what's not to like about a novel that ends with a Viking funeral for Gunilla and her two slain valkyries that involves swiping a winterized Swan Boat and setting it afire in the Frog Pond in the Boston Public Garden? Well, okay, I do have a bone to pick with Viking mores: how come female Valkyries aren't immortal and the heroes in Asgard get to die every day and return to life in time for the dinner buffet? If that's not gender bias, what is?

But aside from that caveat, this one is a real Rick Riordan romp through up-dated but classical Norse mythology. And for those who, unlike the author, are not highly familiar with the hyper-complex Norse Nine Worlds, there is a glossary of names and terms appended which the reader will refer to endlessly to keep up with the many mythic characters and terms encountered on this quest. Also added are the cited runes, and a description of the Nine Worlds contained within the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, which are also essential as Magnus and Company hip-hop through the various realms, all located metaphorically, as we now know, in Boston, Massachusetts. which is, of course, why the Puritan founding fathers called their town "the Hub of the Universe."

The second book of the Gods of Asgard series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor is forthcoming in the fall of 2016.

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  • I have been very curious about this book. Do you know who Nirvana is?? I swear the guy on the cover looks just like Kurt Cobain. I am excited to get to reading this book. I really love most of Riordan's books.

    By Blogger Angela's Anxious Life, at 5:10 PM  

  • "Nirvana" was the name of Kurt Cobain's group, and it is also the highest state of consciousness in the Hindu faith. That's a sort of literary "allusion" (different from "illusion")--a passing mention of something meaningful that will adds depth to the writing without having to explain it. For example, "Lois didn't have to have a Superman; she just wanted a decently-built date for the prom, not a pencil-necked geek like Bertram."

    By Blogger GTC, at 1:39 PM  

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