Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer
2015, 497 pages
If you are familiar at all with the Percy Jackson series of books, and movies, then you already know the basics of Riordan’s writing. The Magnus Chase series is essentially the same as Percy Jackson except where young Percy is an unknowing Greek demigod, Magnus is Norse.
This first book in the Magnus Chase series involves Magnus learning who he is and eventually saving Midgard the destruction of Ragnarök. It is clever in that it is set in Boston and constantly references actual places that locals would be familiar with and interesting bits that us tourists would find facinating. Did you know there is a statue to Lief Erikson there? I didn’t. Longships carved into the pillars of Longfellow bridge? Nope, that was new to me as well. The story is mostly light and has enough action to keep both young and adult readers entertained. All in all I really enjoyed it and recommend it.
But, it is wholly irreverent, silly and downright insulting and maybe even sacrilegious at times. It has all the classical Norse images: Loki, Valkyries as beautiful warrior maidens, Valhalla, etc. A lot of these are contentious these days. To make it worse, these are taken to a whole new level of silly. Valhalla is a giant hotel for instance. Frey’s sword talks like a teenager. Surt is the best dressed fire giant you’ve ever seen.
Oh, this being the age it is the social justice crowd has had a bit of influence as well. One main character, a Valkyrie, is Arab-American and pointedly brings some of the issues of that into the story. Another main character is likely gay (not specifically pointed out, but constant embracing the fashionista cliche). These things don’t bother me, but they seemed somewhat forced into the storyline, especially the Iraqi (I think?) Valkyrie, and a little awkward.
So, with these criticisms, why would I recommend it? Well, firstly it is a fun and entertaining read. There really isn’t enough of that in the world, especially in a Heathen context. More importantly, however, it helps kids internalize the lore. Many times while my sons were reading it they would point out some bit that, even in it’s silliness, coincided with some story from the lore. They would excitedly bring these to me, and I would often take the opportunity to review that particular Eddic tale. In short, it is a great teaching tool. Getting information from different sources and in different ways helps us to retain that information. Plus, it is a great way to talk about the lore with your kids without it being a dry and stuffy affair. Ever try to get a teenager to read and understand the Poetic Edda? Good luck with that. Yes, there is some explaining away some sillier bits and for me quite a bit of explaining Anglo-Saxon equivalents of Norse gods and concepts. But it really is a great, fun read for any Heathen family.