Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, Magnus, you didn’t really die. Otherwise you couldn’t be narrating this story. You just came close. Then you were miraculously rescued, blah, blah, blah.
Nope. I actually died. One hundred percent: guts impaled, vital organs burned, head smacked into a frozen river from forty feet up, every bone in my body broken, lungs filled with ice water.
The medical term for that is dead.
Gee, Magnus, what did it feel like?
It hurt. A lot. Thanks for asking.
Welcome to Rick Riordan’s latest tale of the offspring of mythological deities and the humans silly enough to fall for them. We’ve done the Greek pantheon, spent some time with the Egyptians, and came back for another round with the Greeks — this time with their Roman counterparts, but now we’re in for something new: Norse mythology. A whole new kettle of fish. This involves a new type of central character, a new kind of setting, new challenges. Which gives us the best thing from Riordan since the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.
Magnus Chase is a homeless teen, orphaned a couple of years back when his mother was killed. Since then, he’s lived on the streets of Boston, spending his days in museums and libraries, learning as much as he can about whatever, and establishing relationships with generous restaurant employees and fellow homeless people. Two of whom track him down one day to let him know that there are people looking for him. It turns out that this is his sixteenth birthday and life just got a lot more dangerous for him. The people seeking him are family and they’re sure that he’s about to be hunted by beings he doesn’t believe exist.
The quotation above shows how well that being hunted works out for Magnus.
But he goes down fighting — to save himself, bystanders, and a couple of friends. So a Valkyrie (who happens to be Muslim, a combination that fascinates me) takes him to Valhalla — where he makes some more interesting friends, and enjoys a quality of (after-)life that’s far better than the streets. But then, someone casts doubt on the worthiness of his selection, which puts that Valkyrie in hot water.
So now Magnus has to take things into his own hands, prove that he’s worthy, defend the Valkyrie, and prevent Ragnarok from starting — or, if things go wrong, kick it off. It could go either way, really. One of the best pieces of advice he gets — the thing that inspires him is:
The thing about fate, Magnus: even if we can’t change the big picture, our choices can alter the details. That’s how we rebel against destiny, how we make our mark.
Now it’s just a question of what kind of mark he leaves.
Love, love the voice/attitude, I’ve seen some criticisms of it from parents, but I think it’s fun, and it’s just the kind of thing to feed into his audience (both the target and those who’ve grown up reading Riordan and still read him despite no longer being age-appropriate). It’s the clearest, crispest, funniest narrative voice since the Percy books — and might end up surpassing them by the end of this series.
I really don’t know that much about Norse mythology — world tree, Ratatoskr, Asgard, Valhalla, Odin, ravens, Hel, etc. I’ve got, but the details are really fuzzy. Most of what I know about Norse myth comes from Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles and Jacqueline Carey’s Daisy Johanssen/Agent of Hel Urban Fantasy books. So I’m learning a lot — and I assume younger readers will, too. The few pages of supplemental materials in back of the book are such a nice help! I really enjoy Riordan’s take on these mythological figures — both those I know and those I’m new to. I think the Thor you meet in these pages is fantastic. Yeah, Hearne’s Thor is a better character, but Riordan’s Thor induced more chuckles.
There are some great chapter titles here — I tend to ignore them (anything beyond a number is a distraction), which is short-sighted, I realize, but that’s what I do. In this book? It’d be really dumb to skip them. Every now and then I’d stop to go back and read the last few that I’d missed. If they’re not the funniest (and most creative) lines in the book — they’re in the top 2%.
The tie-in to the Percy Jackson books is obvious (and I felt really stupid having to have it spelled out for me in the opening chapters rather than sussing it out much earlier) and unexpected, but I can’t wait to see how that develops. But even more entertaining are the jokes about aspects of the Percy-verse — flat-out funny, and nice bit of fan service, too. Oh, and they won’t make a lick of difference to the Riordan-novice.
I just realized that I haven’t even addressed the titular sword. I don’t know what to say about it without ruining anything, but if I was eleven years old? It’d be my favorite sword ever — better than Excalibur or anything that Tolkien could offer (as someone much older than 11, I don’t think that, but I wouldn’t argue with my younger self).
One other thing — I read a review from one review site that I respect that dampened by enthusiasm for getting this — but I decided that Riordan had earned my trust (and I was curious), so I gave this a shot. That review complained about the sarcasm — I don’t get that, but apparently that’s a thing for some parents. And they complained about the addition of cussing — now maybe I missed it, but outside of the taking the names of Norse gods in vain (and that could be argued), the only cussing I saw was in dialogue tags. As in “…,’ he cussed.” Seriously? If we have to shield our middle graders from the concept of cussing, they’re not going to survive the middle grades. There were a few other complains that were about as baseless as these — I kept waiting to see these problems as I read and missed every single one.
Which isn’t to say this is a perfect book — but man, it’s the best he’s done in quite a while. The problems I have are really not worth getting into, they don’t ruin the experience, and if you’ve read Riordan before, you’ll be expecting them (they’re less problematic in this book than the last 2-3). The Sword of Summer is funny, exciting, with real heart — just the thing for middle grade readers (or those who don’t mind reading below their fighting weight).