Monday, July 8, 2013

Loki's Wolves (The Blackwell Pages #1) by K.L. Armstrong, M.A. Marr

Loki is one of my favorite characters in Norwegian mythology with his ambivalent ways that constantly disrupt the order of the gods. He is neither Aesir nor Vanir, but the son of giants; the gods archrivals since the start of the world. The giants represent chaos and the gods represent order. Loki's flawed character is the catalyst for bringing about Ragnarok or the end of the world. He plays tricks that are sometimes funny or deadly, he sires monsters, is unpredictable, good, bad, and the closest reflection to human nature in Norsk myths. The gods are usually prejudiced toward him because of his heritage and oftentimes use him for their own selfish purposes. Scandinavian folklore shows Loki becoming darker as time passes. He is complex and fascinating and an author can portray him in multiple ways. Kelly Armstrong and Marissa Marr create Fen Brekke, a descendant of Loki with similar characteristics: he gets in trouble, can shape-shift, is a trickster, and has trust issues (to name a few). Fen spends a chunk of his time protecting his cousin, Laurie Brekke, from his violent relatives who want to incorporate her into the wolf pack. Fen has other ideas for Laurie's future and good reasons to not trust the pack.

Fen shares the narration with thirteen-year-old Matt, a descendent of Thor, who lives with his burly brothers who eat platefuls of rakfisk. I can imagine their mother's accent as she drops the smelly food in front of each stocky youth saying, "Vær så god." My Norwegian grandmother liked to challenge me to eat lutefisk (similar to rakfisk) much like the Asians like to challenge others to eat "stinky tofu." Matt discovers the end of the world is coming and is chosen by the adults of the city of Blackwell, South Dakota to save the world because his "Thor" powers are manifesting moreso than anyone else in Thorville, I mean Blackwell. His task is to gather descendants of the gods to fight monsters trying to take over the world. Matt seeks the help of Fen and Laurie even though they have been enemies throughout school. Fen is reluctant at first until circumstances force the trio together and send them on the run searching for others with superpowers needed for the quest. Only a fraction of the heroes are found so don't expect much of a resolution.

The somewhat abrupt ending leaves more questions than answers, but this pattern is found in many middle grade books and does not seem to bother young readers as much as me. The action and pacing are fast with the threesome going on their quest and being attacked by trolls, shape-shifting wolves, valkyries, and mares. Good monsters are a must in fantasy and you won't be disappointed by the creatures in this one. Did I mention the tornado that is tossed in the mix to heighten the tension? Uff dah! Good stuff! The tornado is supposed to show the violent climate changes which is how the adults know that the end of the world is coming. This plot point is a bit sketchy, but I didn't really care because there's so much action that I created a wind storm flipping through the pages as fast as possible. My ADHD side craves this kind of book.

While the superpowers of each teen is explained well, other parts such as the tornado had me scratching my head. It was weird that the adults weren't home and the kids were leaving notes. People are usually in their basements with a tornado. It also seemed odd that the teenagers weren't using their cell phones to talk to their parents. Later when the adults seem to think Matt and Laurie ran away, it didn't make sense because Matt never had a chance to leave his parents a note. Wouldn't they think he may have been hurt in the tornado? I found that if I just let myself get swept in the story and not think to much about the logic then it was good fun.

Matt's emotional arc travels the path of learning to be a leader. His empathy allows him to get over his differences with Fen and he realizes that the strength of the group is if they work as a team. Fen, on the other hand, is rude and temperamental. His parents are missing and he lives with various relatives. He doesn't trust anyone and considers Laurie his only family. He's so dang overprotective of her it's not normal. Laurie gets frustrated but understands where Fen is coming from given his heritage. I would have liked more depth from Laurie's character but at least she stands up to the overprotective guys and insists that she can help them in their quest. She doesn't get as much page time as Fen and Matt, so perhaps her character will develop more in book 2.

Previous Armstrong books that I have read tip the scale toward action versus substance. Many of my students like her books for that reason along with their uncomplicated plots. I think this book will satisfy those same readers because the pace is not cumbered by oodles of mythological facts that can be confusing at times. I wondered if my familiarity with Scandinavian mythology made me unknowingly fill in the blanks that might have occurred in the backdrop had I come with no knowledge.  I did like how the authors sometimes followed the myth and sometimes didn't making certain parts of the plot unpredictable. When the myth was followed, I didn't see it coming and was happily surprised. If you liked, "The Lightning Thief," then give this entertaining read a go. Skål!

3 Smileys

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