I’ve been meaning to review the third book in Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy, which came out last October, but time is money and money is power and power is pizza and I REALLY LIKE EATING PIZZA, OKAY.
Belatedly or not, I’m going to tell you some reasons for why you should read these fun Norse mythology-inspired books, and also mention some of my quibbles with the third book. As you probably know if you read my blog, I’m a big fan of Riordan in general. And even though I’m a mythology nerrrrrrrrrd, I almost feel overloaded on the Norse side of things lately, between the Thor movies, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology collection, and Rick Riordan’s trilogy. There are a lot of things to like about The Ship of the Dead, but also some letdowns.
SPOILER WARNING FOR MAGNUS CHASE AND THE GODS OF ASGARD TRILOGY.
I’M SERIOUS, FRIENDS.
I Need You To Complete My Empire of Ceramics
For me, the major selling point of this book and trilogy is the characters. Our protagonist Magnus, son of Frey the summer god, is a a precious beam of compassionate sunlight. There aren’t many healer-protagonists in this kind of adventurous genre, and Magnus combines teenage snark with genuine caring and a desire to make a difference. Anyway besides him, the supporting characters include: Samirah, Muslim Valkyrie of my heart; TJ, son of Tyr the war-god who literally can’t turn down a challenge; Mallory, Irish cannonball of fiery doom to her enemies; Halfborn, Viking cannonball of destructive doom to his enemies; and Alex Fierro, genderfluid child of Loki whose snark and tough love make me feel incredibly blessed. I love Alex’s pottery skills which are ACTUALLY USED IN BATTLE and I hope he/she takes over the world via ceramics one day. I love that TJ CAN’T turn down a duel, but he folds that into his sense of identity, even when he resents it. I love learning more about Mallory and Halfborn’s backstories also. And I haven’t even mentioned Blitzen and Hearthstone yet, but if you’ve read the previous Magnus books you are probably as huge a fan of this fashionable, ASL-speaking, dwarf-and-elf dynamic duo as I am.
My Dad is a God But I Don’t Believe in That Kind of Thing
Besides the characters, this trilogy does its best to explore the tensions between world faiths and religions and the older, legendary mythologies. The contrasts between Sam’s faith and Magnus’ atheism, especially, are really thoughtful. Both of these characters manage to believe in the Norse deities even though that seems, on the surface to be a contradiction, both to Sam’s faith in Allah and Magnus’ absolute belief in no higher powers. I like how Riordan plays with this paradox, with the tension between Sam’s belief in God and her father the god Loki, and with the tension between Magnus’ belief that there is nothing outside of this life, in spite of the fact that he literally died in book 1 and went to the Nordic afterlife. Sam is not at all bothered by the existence of gods and goddesses; she’s still certain that there’s a greater, higher Being running things out there. Magnus struggles with meshing his experiences with his atheism, but he, too, doesn’t change his core beliefs because of a silly little thing like a Norse god of a father. If nothing else, it proves that people have their beliefs and often they’re going to stick to them, no matter the evidence or lack of evidence.
So I Heard You Like Giants and World-Ending Battles
Okay, I mentioned Gaiman’s Norse Mythology earlier, which I read earlier this year. As good as that book was, it let me down in the Norse ladies-and-goddesses-department. The Ship of the Dead, meanwhile actually made characters like Skadi, Gundon, and Frigg into intriguing, fully-formed characters, with voices and motivations of their own that I believed in. Skadi especially had some great scenes in here.
I really enjoy Riordan’s modernized versions of the Norse gods/goddesses for the most part, although I would have loved more Frigg and Tyr in these books. However, one of my biggest problems with this trilogy as a whole is Loki. What I think is compelling about the original myths is that Loki isn’t a malicious villain so much as he is the actual embodiment of chaos. He causes trouble not because he wants to hurt people but because he’s amoral; he enjoys trouble and upsetting natural orders, he enjoys turning things on their head. There were some hints of ambiguity to his character in book 1, but only because Magnus didn’t know anything about him. As the trilogy progresses Loki is confirmed as a one-note villain; he’s chaotic evil instead of chaotic neutral; he wants to end the world because some dudes just want to watch the world burn. I find that boring. Yeah, sure, Loki is pissed that he was punished for murder and now he wants revenge on the gods. I’ve seen this plot before, it’s straightforward, and it’s been done better elsewhere. The only interesting twist to Loki here is that two of his demigod children are working against him to the best of their abilities. At least that adds some family drama to his megalomania and goals of world-domination.
It’s The End Of The World For Five Minutes
I didn’t love the overarching plot here because it relied heavily on evil doomslord Loki and not enough on actual warfare and logistics. Yeah, okay, Ragnarok is coming, Loki is bringing it about, Loki’s got a ship-full of monsters, ghouls, and bogeymen. Since Ragnarok is a Core Fact of Norse mythology and the story of the how the world ends, our heroes can only hope to delay it to a future time, not end the threat entirely. That’s fine, I like an ambiguous, fighting-the-long-defeat sort of battle. However, I never actually felt threatened that Ragnarok was imminent. I enjoyed the mini-quests of this book much more, especially how the Alderman subplot was tied up (I’m always here for a good subversive dragon-lair story).
Once Loki is defeated, apparently the ship of the dead…just….floats ….off? And goooooes wheeeere??? What are these monsters going to do next with their warship? How are they going to take over the world and kill everyone? Are they going to float around for centuries until Loki escapes again? I HONESTLY DO NOT KNOW and it’s surprisingly hand-wavy for a Riordan conclusion.
The good news is, Magnus’s future has never been brighter, even though he and his einherjar friends will all die in battle someday!
In Conclusion, You’re In For a Giant Good Time
All three of the Magnus Chase books are hilarious, gripping adventures, and The Ship of the Dead is entertaining and heartfelt, in spite of my qualms. PS I would die for Alex Fierro. Thank you, good night.