My rating: 4/5 stars | Goodreads rating: 4.37/5 stars
I began reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians when I was about sixteen when I had run out of my own books to read and had to raid my brother’s stash.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the series. Riordan is an incredibly creative writer, and I can honestly (and gratefully) say that everything I know about Greek mythology–which turns out to be quite a lot–I know because of his novels. They are definitely some of my favorites.
The Magnus Chase books, dare I say it, are even better.
They’re a little weirder, too. But I mean, it’s Norse mythology. What did I expect?
The story centers on Magnus Chase, a teenage boy who dies within the first few chapters of the first novel in this series (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer). After his death, Magnus is taken to Valhalla, one of many versions of Norse afterlife. Valhalla is comprised of warriors–called einherjar–who are spending their eternity training to fight in Ragnarok, the final battle that will destroy all the nine worlds. (Most of the “weird” factor is set in Valhalla, a magical hotel with hundreds of floors, thousands of multi-specie einherjar residents, and a ginormous goat that is killed every night to provide the einherjar with a sumptuous feast.)
In The Sword of Summer, Magnus and his new friends fight evil Norse deities and delay Ragnarok. The Hammer of Thor (Riordan’s Thor is nothing like Hemsworth’s Thor, sorry, ladies) features the same general cast and the same general mission: delay Ragnarok, which in this instance involves fighting earth giants, crashing weddings, and a life-or-death game of bowling. Oh, and trying to prevent Loki from breaking free of his prison and wreaking havoc on pretty much everything (and he is every bit as sneaky as Hiddleston’s Loki, except times a hundred and minus the fangirl base).
To tell more of the plot would be to give away all the fun, but I have to take a moment here to admire Riordan’s characters. Generally, when writers undertake as many novels or series as Riordan has, their characters all begin to look very similar. However, Riordan has avoided this unfortunate occurrence. Yes, Magnus is a little like Percy is a little like Jason (The Heroes of Olympus) is a little like Carter (The Kane Chronicles). However, the similarities don’t extend much further beyond basic characteristics such as being stubborn, gutsy, and humorous. Magnus is also suspicious and snarky; he doesn’t have time for godly Nordic nonsense. Then there is Jack the talking sword, Blitz the fashionable dwarf, Hearth the magic elf, Samirah the Valkyrie, and Alex the shape-shifter.
Hard to believe that all fits into one book, right?
To me, the real heroines of the novel are Samirah and Alex. Samirah al-Abbas the Supergirl of the series. Not only does she have to juggle her time between Valkyrie duties in Valhalla and regular-life things like school and homework on earth (or Midgard), she also has to keep her valkyrie duties secret from her grandparents, work as Odin’s special agent, deal with the mistrust that comes with being Loki’s daughter, and learn how to fly an airplane. You know, just for kicks. One of the things I admire most about Samirah, though, is her devotion to her Muslim faith, even in the middle of the craziness of Norse mythology come to life and the battle against Doomsday. The girl never wavers, which makes her a role model for kids (or kids-at-heart) of any faith.
Then there’s Alex Fierro, another child of Loki and a recent addition to Valhalla. Alex is brave, unapologetic, and a little mysterious. Alex is also genderfluid (and spends most of her time in this novel as a girl, so those are the pronouns I’ve used here). Riordan has never shied away from the characters that challenge the “status quo” of the everyday world, and he usually writes them with a care and an amusing realism that cannot fail to keep readers engrossed. Personal opinions aside, Alex is an excellent addition to the Magnus Chase dream team, and while her gender identity is discussed and important, the novel does not err either on the side of taking her gender too seriously (by making the entire book about it) or too lightly (by not acknowledging it at all). Alex is simply Alex, simply herself or himself, and what more should any of us try to be, really?
So we’ve got self-acceptance, friendship, and good versus evil all wrapped up in a nice, neat package. What more could be asked? The novel is exactly up to the caliber I have come to expect from Rick Riordan and his Amazing Brain of Modernized Mythology, and I will be one of many impatiently awaiting the release of Magnus’s next adventures.