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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: Sword of Summer

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

When she picked up the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the older child, then eight, only liked Sea of Monsters, the second book, and didn't care to read further and finish that series. I don't blame her. It is not her preferred type of story. She was into Roald Dahl and Judy Blume (Fudge books) and Bruce Coville (Magic Shop books) at that time.

At 9 she tried Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus,. This time around she read all the books in this series, and even liked some of them. The difference? Perhaps she was a bit older and ready for it. Or, perhaps there were many strong female characters who saved the day and didn't just tag along and try to prove themselves and display bravado; plus it was more than just Percy -- it was all of them together that made the team strong. And perhaps because at that time she was into R.L.Stine's Goosebumps and Poison Apple series and Charles Gilman's Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series and was craving for more adventure and suspense and mystery.

In any case, the snarky, devil-may-care attitude of boys jumping into the fray wasn't impressing her much. Why is there so much fighting, bloodshed? Why is everyone trying to destroy everyone else? And why is there these impossible quests that make no sense? Well, those were her questions, not mine.

So, I wasn't holding out much hope for her to pick up Magnus Chase of her own volition now at 10. And she didn't. But, once it came home from the library, she wouldn't return it unread...

I, of course, *had* to read it. I needed to find out what it was all about. And, now that I've read The Sword of Summer, I am convinced that neither of my kids will pick it up and read it and enjoy it on their own. The older child might be inclined to if I give her a nudge... Maybe in a year or two, the older child might be inclined to know what all the fuss was about - especially since the rest of the books in this series will be out by then. But, the younger child will probably not go for it -- he has not liked violence and gore so far, and doesn't care much for fiction, in general. And that's okay.

The Boston accent is a giveaway: the story unfolds in and around Boston.

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 be open to 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, but to the adolescent attitudes and presentation style itself.

Magnus Chase comes across as just another good kid with certain super powers by birthright, learning to master them and use them for worthy purposes. He is witty, has self-deprecating charm and a stubborn streak of zero-self-preservation where he will plunge to death if he believes that's the right thing to do.

There is plenty of gore and death which is mitigated by the fact that in 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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