Averting the end of the world with a motley crew’s help (Book Review)

Title: Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead; Author: Rick Riordan; Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House; Pages: 423; Price: Rs 599

Being with the cosmic forces of good is not always a happy situation for, at some time, you are going to be called in to save the world, while the gods will only render advice — if they feel like it. Though your team has seven other brave warriors, it doesn’t help when one is fasting, two are in a lovers’ spat, and one is gender-fluid/transgender and the rest have their own issues.

And that is when you have cross the treacherous ocean, facing angry sea gods, hostile giants and evil fire-breathing dragons, to thwart the wiles of trickster god Loki and his ship full of zombies and ghosts, whose advent will signal Ragnarok or the final battle. There is also a magical elixir to find en route.

Welcome to the world of Magnus Chase, one of Odin’s “einherji” (chosen immortal warriors) in the third and final installment of Rick Riordan’s “Gods of Asgard” trilogy, as he faces what could be his final adventure.

However with some pluck, some strategic help, fighting and diplomatic skills, he and his friends can work wonders. And in the end, it is the humanness of the protagonists that is key, not any supernatural or paranormal attribute.

The final result may seem evident but its course and the manner of the denouement is what makes this story a frantic page-turner — like all others of Riordan, the “story-teller of the gods”.

But, above all, the author deserves full credit for his unique, contemporary and thrilling take on Norse mythology, which is far from cheery, well reflecting its violent and gloomy setting — ice-bound Scandinavia full of marauding Vikings, its star-crossed heroes and heroines and preordained fall of the gods and the destruction of the worlds (eight others apart from the mortal realm).

Like his popular Percy Jackson series using the old Greek myths, expanded with Roman variants in the “Heroes of Olympus” saga and Ancient Egypt mythology in the “Kane Chronicles”, Riordan imbues the same modern feel, contemporary issues, topped with a tongue-in-cheek tinge, to appeal to a new audience, who may not be aware/interested in the old myths.

First of all, the primary setting for all this is present-day America — Boston in this case, though we cross the ocean to Britain and Norway — and the characters represent a wide spectrum of its diversity and attitudes including a cool acceptance of homosexuality and shifting gender identities.

The Magnus Chase series takes this furthest, with its hijab-wearing, devout Muslim Samirah al-Abbas, who is on Ramadan fasting for the duration of this adventure, Alex Fierro, who switches between male and female genders at will, and mute light elf Hearthstone.

The gods also get a modern makeover — Odin the All-Seeing, the chief of gods, talks like a motivational speaker and we are told that he hung himself for nine days to learn the magic of runes and stood in line in a blizzard for six days to learn the magic of smartphones. Thor, the god of thunder, is more interested in seeing TV shows and uses his hammer more to stream them than to smite giants; and Heimdall, the gatekeeper of the gods’ realm, is now a selfie freak.

Thus it is not only old myths retold, but various less than prepossessing aspects of the human condition and experience woven in, including disability, neglect, parental (or family) abuse and homelessness as well lust for power, greed and mindless violence.

But, there is also friendship, camaraderie and acceptance between a disparate group of people and human resilience, ingenuity and resolve, that can even impress the gods. Also the importance of choice, as opposed to heredity, is still paramount.

For fans of Riordan, this installment also sees a cameo by Percy and Annabeth Chase, who is Magnus’ cousin, and in the end, there is a tantalising glimpse of trouble in the ongoing “Trials of Apollo” series.

And for those impressed with series which began with “The Sword of Summer” (2015) and continued in “The Hammer of Thor” (2016), there are hints that this may not the last appearance of Magnus Chase and his motley crew of dependable friends.

We can only hope.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

By Vikas Datta


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