The Sword Of Summer, by Rick Riordan (Magnus Chase And The Gods Of Asgard #1)
This book is the start of another series that seeks to mine the mythos of heathen European religious past for a polytheistic perspective that wishes to deny ultimate truth and an authoritative God. This book is part of a shared universe that views Boston as the portal to the nine worlds of Scandinavian myth, just as New York is viewed as the portal to Mt. Olympus in the contemporary world, showing Riordan as one of those blowhard people from the east coast who thinks that they are the center of the universe. The hero of this book, one homeless orphan Magnus Chase, happens to be the paternal cousin of Annabelle Chase, Percy Jackson’s girlfriend from one of the author’s other series. The author’s creation of a shared universe of various polytheistic gods all of which have different apocalyptic scenarios coming from different threats tends to lower the stakes, as these gods are simply not very powerful if teenagers can thwart their will and resist what is supposed to be their fate. I know that resisting one’s supposed fate plays well with younger readers, but the world that the author is building is a real mess.
The plot of this book is not particularly surprising if one is familiar with the author’s work in general, just with a different polytheistic mythos. Magnus Chase is a homeless boy who has just turned sixteen and finds that some of his friends are not who he thought they were (surprise!) and that he is being targeted by some evil forces that wish to destroy him and the world (surprise!) and that he magically summons a sword of his father’s the minor Norse god Frey, which turns out to have a personality of its own. Magnus’ sacrifice sends him to Valhalla, where he shows some elf-magic that surprises others, and where he finds himself in a quest to stop Ragnarok from happening that involves some close encounters with Norse gods, Loki, various evil giants, and being chased by angry Valkaries who want to summon Magnus and his associates to justice, including a Muslim girl engaged to be married to a cousin who happens to be an illegitimate daughter of Loki herself, and a renegade Valkarie to boot. The book involves a lot of adventures, a compressed time period involving an astronomical phenomenon, and cosmic stakes, which is fairly cliche in the author’s writing.
There are really two big problems with this book, especially in its aspect of being a shared universe with the author’s previous work about the Greek gods. For one, the author doubles down on his hostility to the order and legitimacy of a moral universe by having an even more diverse set of not very impressive gods and other beings who actively rebel against their fate and that lack moral coherence. This is not a new problem, as it has been present in all of the author’s work and likely reflects the author’s own rebellion against the Judeo-Christian moral order. The other problem with this novel is a new one, though, and that is the way that adding yet another heathen pantheon to the author’s shared universe weakens the importance of the novels themselves, since multiple heathen pantheons with their own apocalypses cannot help but dilute the problems that each of them provides individually in the absence of an overall moral authority to determine matters. An apocalypse that only threatens New York or only threatens Boston is not really that much of an apocalypse, since it does not appear as if Kronos and Loki are cooperating in their schemes, after all, but rather working on their own separate plans for destruction that center on bratty and rebellious American teens all too much like their intended readers.