Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer
by Rick Riordan

The typically snarky, devil-may-care attitude of boys jumping into the fray wasn't impressing my ten-going-on-fifteen year old daughter much. Why is there so much fighting, bloodshed? Why is everyone trying to destroy everyone else? And why are there these impossible quests that make no sense? Those were her questions.

So, I wasn't holding out much hope for her to devour Magnus Chase now at 10.

I, of course, *had* to read it. Not just because I adore the fatalistic Norse mythology too much and was curious about Riordan's take on it, but also because I wanted to be entangled in a well-spun yarn.

Exposition aside, the book flowed smoothly towards a common end: Reclaim Sumerbrander, Re-bind Fenris, Cast Surt back to Muspelheim, and thus postpone Ragnarok! All in a day's (week's?) work for a dead demigod -- son of Frey, nephew of Freya - elevated to the status of einherji, by mistake (i.e., Odin's design.)

The characters are diverse and colorful - from a deaf elf, Hearthstone, who has suffered much to gain rune magic, a fashion-conscious dwarf, Blitzen, a Muslim Valkyrie demigod daughter of Loki, Samantha al-Abbas; to the re-imagined slightly-gross and gassy, loud-mouthed Thor who rides a cart drawn by two goats, the book continues the theme of Percy Jackson by twisting our accepted notions of Norse mythology and noble characters. I liked that Sam and Magnus are not instantly attracted to each other to become love interests.

As always, my objection has been that the odds are stacked up disproportionately against our heroes in an effort to make their victory seem all the more meritorious. There is always the looming deus ex machina, which is unavoidable as the book is all about deus (dei) and their machinations.

On the one hand, we want more kids to enjoy reading for pleasure, therefore, be it graphic novel or grisly adolescent entertainment, we should embrace any and all such reading materials. However, I can't help but wonder if Magnus Chase books can do with a bit more of the sublime -- a smattering of veneration, and a little less of the flippant impertinence -- not just to mythology and life, but to the style of presentation as well.

Magnus Chase comes across as just another good kid who has suffered much pain, possessing certain super powers by birthright, learning to master them and use them for worthy purposes. He is witty, has a self-deprecating charmness about him, and has that stubborn streak of zero-self-preservation which lets him plunge to death if he believes that's the right thing to do.

There is plenty of gore and carnage which is mitigated by the fact that in (Hotel) Valhalla, they rise up again and do it all over again. Cousin Annabeth Chase makes an appearance at the beginning and the end, but, Book Two: The Hammer of Thor, promises to include her in a larger capacity. Epilogue leaves us speculating wildly about Loki's plans and Uncle Randolph's secrets.

[cover image: Rick Riordan website]

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