(Note: Though I tried to avoid any spoilers, if you want to stay 100% spoiler-free, you can scroll down to the bottom for my final verdict on the book).
This is the first instalment in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, Rick Riordan’s latest foray into mythological retellings in modern-day settings.
Call me cynical and boring, but I felt much the same way about this book as I did about the Minions movie. It was entertaining, yes. Funny, certainly. But it had the same sort of cheap, flat quality that comes with an overused brilliant idea.
Let’s do the thing systematically, shall we?
Rick Riordan is undeniably a good writer. I have no idea how he manages to write so much content in so short a time, and I admire him for that. He also can be very hilarious, and I laughed out loud several times while reading The Sword of Summer. On the other hand, I was not very engaged by the plot of this book. In fact, I spent most of the read waiting for the plot to begin, which was a frustrating feeling. His overuse of hyperbole also sometimes made it difficult for me to picture what was really happening. Was so-and-so’s beard really larger than some sovereign states? Was the monster really the smelliest thing in the Nine Worlds? When every description tells about the biggest, baddest, smelliest yet, I find they become meaningless.
I found the characters were pretty flat. Magnus felt like a blonde, Norse, discount Percy Jackson, though he was a lot less funny and adorable. Sam felt like a standard cardboard cut-out female character with a few quirks slapped on for “originality”. Blitzen read a lot like Coach Hedge from the Heroes of Olympus. Hearthstone was interesting, but I didn’t really connect with him. In fact, connection is one of my bigger quibbles with this book. I felt like I was being told about the characters, rather than experiencing them and the story first-hand. Magnus felt angry. Sam was sad. I couldn’t get a feel for their personalities or motivations, and especially near the end some of the choices that they made didn’t make sense to me. This was especially true for Magnus and Sam. Their choices made sense only from the standpoint of setting up the plot for the rest of the series and not from where I thought they were in their character arcs.
I’ve mentioned earlier that I felt like I was waiting for the plot to begin for most of the book. I should probably explain myself more, because it’s not like nothing was happening. Quite the contrary, lots of stuff happened. They went to lots of different places, fought tons of monsters, ate heaps of food, and narrowly avoided dying several times. All the trappings of a fun and exciting read. Maybe it was because I went into the book expecting there to be a clear quest, or maybe I was just overtired while reading, but the plot events all felt a little pointless. They would go to a place, nearly die, find out they needed to go to another place, nearly die, and so on until they finally arrived at the climax. Honestly I don’t know why that storytelling format didn’t work for me in this book, because that is a pretty standard format for a MG/YA adventure novel, but it didn’t.
I can’t deny that Norse-Mythology-In-Modern-Day-Boston makes for a pretty cool setting. It was fun to get a new take on the mythology, and I did learn a bit more about the various Norse gods and goddesses and monsters. That being said, it all felt a bit like reading a Percy Jackson fanfiction minus Percy and with Norse gods instead of Greek.
Tying into that, Riordan has always walked a fine line retelling ancient mythologies in modern day, because there is the problem of explaining to characters growing up around “modern” religions why they are wrong and the mythological world is “real”. I like to think I’m generally pretty lenient with authors in these areas, and it never really bothered me in the Percy Jackson series. I know that it is fiction and I know what is real, and I thought Riordan had done a pretty good job of skirting the issue in the original series in such a way that he didn’t create any plot-holes for himself, and (in my opinion) wasn’t offensive towards anyone who believes in God. I felt he crossed the line in this book, though. And honestly I was a bit mad about it. It might seem like a small thing to a lot of people, and it probably got him a lot of laughs from readers, but it irked me to see Jesus jokingly compared with Thor. Like he’s just part of another ancient mythology that people long ago used to follow. Like he’s less powerful than a Norse god. Like he is a coward. As I said earlier, I know what’s real and what’s fiction, but I still don’t appreciate it when and author takes the truth and treats it like a mythology.
Now that it’s been a few days I’m not so much mad as sad, because I really love the Percy Jackson books, and I really had wanted to like the Magnus Chase ones as well. I’ve slowly been losing respect for Riordan, though, and I’m not sure I’ll be reading much more of him in future.
All in all this was a fun, quick, and easy read, good for a few laughs. I, however, was not a huge fan of it, and would not give it a strong recommendation. 3/5 stars.
Have you read Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer? Did you enjoy it? Oh, and what’s your opinion on authors treating Christianity or other religions like mythologies in fiction? Tell me all in the comments below!