Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordan

If you liked Percy Jackson, you will enjoy this first book in a series that follows a similar pattern with a snarky protagonist, humor that balances violence, great monsters, a demigod, mythology-based fantasy plot, mnemonics to learn foreign words, a cross-over with a character (Annabeth Chase appears), and a first person narration. Why mess with a good thing? Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series has sold in the millions. Magnus Chase will satisfy loyal fans. Yah... sure.

Magnus Chase is sixteen and homeless. His mom died protecting him when two monsters burst into his apartment. When Magnus discovers two people looking for him he breaks into the home of his uncle setting in motion a hunt for an ancient and powerful sword. He learns that his dad is a god which gives him the ability to retrieve the sword. And don't cha know, good and evil beings want this sword and once he calls it to him he sets in motion events that signal not only the end of the world, but life as he knows it. That's right. He's killed. This isn't a spoiler. He tells the reader in the first paragraph using the oh-so-familiar Rick Riordan hook. I bit. As Magnus learns what it is like to be a ghost warrior in Valhalla, he tries to save the world with the aide of a Valkarie of Arab descent and two disguised homeless men. The action snowballs to an exciting climax.

In Norse mythology, the gods know that their destiny is inescapable and doomed to a bloody epic battle called, "Ragnarok," that will leave them and humanity dead. From the ashes will rise two people that signify the regeneration of life. The myths show life as cyclical with gods and human beings not in despair over their fate, but attempting to hold it off. Loki points this out when he tells Magnus: “Well what you do is change the details. That’s how you rebel. That’s how you change the narrative. I know how I’m going to die, but between now and then I’m going to make my own game.” You betcha.

Magnus reminds me of the Germanic heroic code found in medieval literature such as Beowulf and the Icelandic sagas where death is heroic and not tragic and destruction is final not life-giving. The heroic code means that Magnus places honor above death and dies saving the lives of strangers. He decides at the last minute to make his death count by taking out a fire demon. Magnus displays courage in the face of overwhelming or impossible odds and remains strong in the face of death. This hero understands that Fate will take everything - power, family, wealth - gained in the world, but it can't take the hero's character. Out of this mentality comes the literary trope where the Germanic hero dies with a quip taking light of the situation. Magnus does not have wealth, fame, or power and he puts his own spin on the heroic code calling the fire demon, "Fire Dude,"and acting like a rebellious teen taunting him and giving him the finger, but he does reflect elements of this type of hero.

Don't worry. All my Minnesota speak that comes from German and Scandinavian immigrants is not in Rick Riordan's book. He does have a deaf person in it that uses sign language to communicate with others. That character is unique and worked into the plot in interesting ways. He does have several characters use Old English that enhances voice and setting, but don't expect to find kennings and alliteration found in Beowulf and the Icelandic sagas. That's probably a good thing for the younger reading audience. Kennings are confusing. Although I do like how Riordan makes it easier to memorize the names of gods using mnemonics. If he could come up with a way to wade through the murky waters of kennings that would be amazing.

The character of the Valkarie that is Muslim-American is a nod to 10th century writer, Ibn Fadlan, an Arab traveler who was part of a delegation sent by the Caliph in Baghdad to help establish Islam for the king of the Volga Bulghars in Russia. Fadlan wrote about the "Rus" or Vikings that had settled there for trade and goes into detail the funeral rites involving a ship burial and human sacrifice. Riordan has the Valkarie character descending from this family. Ironically, Fadlan was a theologian and thought the Rus Vikings were vulgar and primitive. I doubt Fadlan would appreciate his descendant being loyal to the Norse gods; however, no religion is revered by these characters, especially Magnus.

Fadlan's account about Viking funeral practices have been somewhat generalized and it might not be how a funeral was conducted in Scandinavia during the Viking reign. Fadlan met a band of select warriors who became merchants and that adapted to a new culture in Russia. I'm not an archeologist, but I don't think there is an account of Viking funeral rites in Scandinavia. Don't quote me on that. Sorry. This has nothing to do with the book. I'm digressing into my fascination with Viking history. Maybe that is my clue that I've written enough book reviews on Rick Riordan's series. Time to move on.

3 Smileys

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