I suspected I would enjoy The Sword of Summer and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. I am happy to report that I was correct!
Spoilers ahead, so, so many spoilers. Anyway, here we go!
Magnus, my beloved Bostonian
I absolutely adore books set in places that I know well. I was born in Boston and raised in a city a couple dozen miles away. Currently I live across the river and I pop in and out of the city frequently. The library in Copley Square is one of my favorite places in the world and I just had an ice cream date at the J.P. Licks on Newbury Street last night. (I also got my 15th Doctor cosplay sweater from the H&M on the corner of Newbury and Clarendon.)
What I’m trying to say is, a significant chunk of why I love this story so much is the setting. Another huge factor is Magnus’ dry humor and wit, which I connected with instantly.
After being in Freya’s realm, the world of dwarves seemed oppressive, but it also felt more familiar, more… genuine. I guess no true Bostonian would trust a place that was sunny and pleasant all the time. But a gritty, perpetually cold and gloomy neighborhood? Throw in a couple of Dunkin’ Donuts locations and I’m home. (285)
When I tell you that never in my 27 years of life have I not lived within walking distance from a Dunkin’ Donuts. Magnus darling you could not possibly be speaking my language any louder.
Magnus and I also share a love of nature and going beyond the city. That combination of being equally at home in the city and in the open air makes me feel like Magnus and I would make great friends. Given that this book is set in roughly 2011, Magnus is actually only a year older than me, which makes this more likely than you might think! Though he’s stuck at 16 for the rest of forever which brings me too….
Killing off your main character on page one? Really, Rick?
Granted, death is not permanent for Magnus in the way it is for most people. Still, starting off the story with sending the main character into the afterlife… it’s a way to get the ball rolling certainly but a ballsy move. I enjoyed it immensely.
Seriously, sending Magnus to Valhalla is an excellent way to catapult him into the action and give him power ups. At the same time, being stuck at sixteen forever? Could not be me. That said, not going back to being an average human was the smart choice for Magnus! Especially with all of the people who have it out for him and the fact that Valhalla is the first place he has felt comfortable and safe in years. I understand why he made his choices despite the fact that I would have made a different decision if one was offered by Odin.
Speaking of the gods, I have a bone to pick.
Some thoughts on Norse Mythology
I do not always go shouting to the rooftops about it, but it’s no secret that I am a pagan. I hesitate to call myself a heathen because my practice is much more eclectic, and not all of the gods I worship are Nordic. Still, I have places for Loki, Hel, and Odin on my altars, and I have a deep respect for the other gods.
Given my background, it was inevitable that I would have Opinions about the way that the gods are portrayed. To start with the positive — Odin’s actions are typical and I have no complaints. I am utterly unsurprised by his characterization. Down to the fact that he was hiding himself in plain sight! The gods often test us in this way. His PowerPoint presentation was amusing and felt in character as well. I am not surprised that the wanderer would spy on his own people and then lecture them afterward.
I also found Thor to be in line with how I think of him. He is much craftier than the protagonists give him credit for, while still having a warrior mindset. His scenes are delightful and I do not doubt his enjoyment of Game of Thrones. Certainly he could have done more to help our heroes, but that would not be in line with testing their mettle.
I have more I could say about the other gods, but those who know me are probably shocked that I haven’t mentioned Loki yet.
This characterization of Loki is… intriguing. I am yet unsure how I feel about him. That said, I am troubled. I consider appellations such as “the father of all evil” to be highly inaccurate when they concern the sly one. Surely Loki is known as silvertongue and excellent with words, but he is not evil. Loki always has his own agenda, but he has good reason for disliking the other gods.
Loki is chained down by the entrails of one son who was forcibly slaughtered by another. He was forced to witness such cruelty before then suffering continued torture by snake venom. This is all mythologically accurate by the way. His only source of comfort is his wife Sigyn holding a bowl to catch the venom. His pain when she has to empty the bowl causes him to writhe with a force so strong that it causes what we know of as earthquakes.
Fenrir had not acted with any kind of malice before the gods chained him with Gleipnir. Jormungandr was similarly cast into the sea simply for the offense of being prophesied to participate in Ragnarok. The children of Loki are not treated well, and he is right to be angry. Furthermore, while Loki caused much trouble for the gods, he always had solutions. Loki was a friend to the gods just as much as an enemy if not more so. One of Loki’s kennings is “friend of the raven god” meaning Odin, and the Lokasenna tells us that they swore an oath as blood brothers not to drink unless the other was also served.
This is all to say, Loki has his reasons for acting as he does.
To bring us back to The Sword of Summer, I do appreciate Riordan’s efforts to portray Loki. He makes it clear that Loki has many layered plans upon plans, which is very in character for the trickster. Riordan also calls attention, as per my previous point, to how Loki has been shaped into who he is. When Magnus asks Loki to confirm whether he will fight against the gods at Ragnarok Loki replies:
“Yes, but that was the gods’ choice, not mine. 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 out mark. What will you choose to do?” (132)
I cannot say whether or not I love this Loki yet. Certainly I have read hundreds if not thousands of interpretations of Loki. I’ll have to see how the next two books change my perception of Himself. I will say that I don’t particularly enjoy referring to him as the Liesmith. If anything Loki tells people uncomfortable truths. Often those can hurt more than a pretty lie.
Samirah al-Abbas, Lokidottir
Sam is an exquisite character. I savor every scene where she appears. Part of me was skeptical about Riordan’s improvements to diversity and characterization in these books, but it is clear that he has made an effort, not just in race but also cultural background, class, and ability. Sam is one example of that, because not only is her character from a different ethnic and cultural background, but the ways in which she is different are portrayed as both positive and essential to her character. We see as readers how Sam reacts in small ways to Magnus’ well-meaning but sometimes clueless actions. He has no idea why she is tense at the suggestion of eating falafel, or how his casual remark of Samirah al-Abbas not being a Nordic name might hurt. Yet we as readers can clearly tell that these are microaggressions that Sam has had to deal with before.
Moreover, we can as critical readers consider how Sam’s appointment to the role of a Valkyrie is contentious because of her father, yes, but also because of her cultural background. Magnus’ conversation with TJ makes it clear that there are plenty of racist people in Valhalla. One can then extrapolate that Sam would have faced criticism not only because of Loki, but also because of her ethnicity. Many people have been in Valhalla for hundreds of years, the presence of racists is the opposite of shocking.
Odin himself goes undercover as someone who is marginalized because he knows that people treat him differently as a god and a white man.
In Samirah we also get to see the portrayal of someone who battles with an undesirable legacy. She is constantly attempting to prove herself to not be her father’s daughter. In doing so however, she also rejects important parts of herself. Sam’s struggle to define herself as someone other than Loki’s daughter and her determination to make her own path is one of the best parts of The Sword of Summer. Likewise, the division she feels between her two paths in life is a familiar trope and one I relish every time.
I also revel in the fresh change of pace that has Magnus and Sam not having a romantic entanglement. So often the main characters are automatically a couple and I appreciate their friendship and the way they adopt each other as their chosen family instead.
Blitzen, Hearthstone, Magnus, and Sam’s little family is THE most precious and must be protected at all costs. Found family is my kryptonite and The Sword of Summer is no exception. Come to think of it, Jack is part of their family too.
The way that they care for each other and lean on one another is so energizing. I immediately want to read/write a fluff fanfic about them. TJ, Mallory, and Halfborn will also play starring roles.
Hearth is a character very dear to my heart. (Pun slightly intended.) I especially love how the other characters have made such an effort to learn sign language for him. It shows a level of care that I find reinvigorating. When I read that Hearth had the choice to speak and hear and become accepted by his bigoted family and community, and rejected it in favor of magic… instant favorite character.
Hearth’s relationship with Blitz also warms my heart. Given that they were referred to as Magnus’ “Mom and dad” I will honestly be astonished if they are not a couple of some kind. I stand by the fact that one does not need to be in a sexual relationship with someone to be their partner, and so whether or not Hearth and Blitz have any kind of romantic or sexual entanglement they are definitely connected deeply in a way that I welcome.
Despite certain reservations, I honestly found this book delightful. The pacing was great, the characters are intriguing, and I’m excited to see what happens next in The Hammer of Thor.
One thing I will note because I know you will all be very surprised if I don’t mention it—while I don’t particularly like the use of the kenning “the black one” for Sutr. It is traditional so I understand its use. I do wish that Riordan could have found an alternative that did not come across as so racist, but you cannot have everything.
Next week, we discuss book two in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor. Anyone else really excited to see the aftermath of Magnus finding out about Annabeth’s history and the existence of the Greek and Roman gods?
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