I just finished the last book in the Magnus Chase series by Rick Riordan: The Ship of the Dead. This book completes the fun trilogy about Norse mythology. And since I never wrote a review on the first two books, here is a full series review. Since I will review three books at once, there will be some mild spoilers ahead. But no worries, this is a piece to get you to read these three books, so it’ll be mostly about the story and the characters, with no big plot revelations or the like.
Rick Riordan is famously known for his contemporary Greek mythology books. Percy Jackson is the main protagonist for Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus. These series both contain five books, and they are about Greek demi-gods and their adventures with Gods, monsters en other creatures from Greek mythology. These books are amazing and you should absolutely read them. Also set in the Greek realm are the Trials of Apollo, with the third installment coming out this year. Besides the Greeks, Riordan wrote a trilogy about the Egyptian mythology in the Kane Chronicles. And now, with Magnus Chase, he set foot in the Norse mythology.
Magnus Chase is the cousin of Annabeth Chase, one of the main characters in both Percy Jackson series. It’s fun to read how Riordan has woven these two universes together. Some Olympian characters even make an appearance in the three Chase books. So, same as Percy, Magnus finds out his father is a God; a Norse God. One of the marketing slogans for the first book is ‘sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.’ So yes, Magnus dies in one of the first chapters. He becomes an einherji, a deceased warrior who must help protect the world together with a lot of other einherji, whose parents all are Norse Gods.
Let’s delve some deeper into all three books, starting each paragraph with the summary from Goodreads.
Book 1: The Sword of Summer
Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents…
As first books go, this is where all things are set up. The characters, the mythology, the plot. So it’s a bit intense, learning all these new things. But, as Riordan is such a fantastic author, the story will suck you in quickly. If you’ve read his other books, you’ll recognise the writing style. It’s fast, witty and fun. But, if you’ve read the other books, this new mythology will take some time to get used to. It’s quite different from the Greek/Roman setting.
I think it’s very clever to make Magnus the cousin of Annabeth. If you’re new to the Riordan books, you probably won’t get all inside jokes, but there will hardly be any spoilers (except that, obviously, Annabeth survives). It’s no problem at all to start with this trilogy, if you’d like. Magnus is a very likeable character and all the other characters are great as well. But more on them later.
Book 2: The Hammer of Thor
Thor’s hammer is missing again. The thunder god has a disturbing habit of misplacing his weapon – the mightiest force in the Nine Worlds – but this time the hammer isn’t just lost. It has fallen into enemy hands.
If Magnus Chase and his friends can’t retrieve the hammer quickly, the mortal worlds will be defenseless against an onslaught of giants. Ragnarok will begin. The Nine Worlds will burn. Unfortunately, the only person who can broker a deal for the hammer’s return is the gods’ worst enemy, Loki — and the price he wants is very high.
Before you go all Marvel fangirl/fanboy on these books: don’t. Yes, Thor, Odin, Heimdall and Loki all make appearances but they are nothing like their counterparts in films like Thor: Ragnarok. Riordan’s Thor is… gassy. And he’s not polished at all, but a huge bodybuilder type, with flaming red hair. In the second book, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir is ‘unofficialy’ missing and it’s up to Magnus and his friends to find it. This all ties together nicely with the main plot, which starts in book one and ends in book three.
The Hammer of Thor also introduces a new main character: Alex Fierro. (S)he is a genderfluid einherji who joins Magnus and his team to defeat evil and help the good. It’s great how Rick Riordan is all about diversity. In his previous books, there were characters from all ethnicity. The Magnus Chase books go even further than that with genderfluid, deaf and Muslima main characters. As these books are written for middle grade children (and all ages above that!), everything is explained in clear terms, but without delving too deep into the material.
Book 3: The Ship of the Dead
Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin’s chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn’t naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus and his crew must sail to the farthest borders of Jotunheim and Niflheim in pursuit of Asgard’s greatest threat. Will they succeed in their perilous journey, or is Ragnarok lurking on the horizon?
The conclusion of the trilogy was my least favorite book of the series, but I still really liked it. For me, it wasn’t the best as I found it all a bit predictable. Also, Riordan uses the same formula he uses in every other book and it got a bit old for me this time around. Mainly, I’m talking about the plot moving on thanks to dreams/visions and Gods giving very vague advise.
But, it’s a good conclusion to the main plot and most characters get (some) closure. It also leaves the door wide open for a possible sequel. I for one would love a series about the Chase cousins, as both Magnus and Annabeth are very cool and I loved their few scenes together. There’s no word yet on what Riordan will write once he finishes the Trials of Apollo series, so we’ll just have to wait and see. But since there’s a new Riordan novel coming out each year, I have great hopes for 2019.
Gods of Asgard characters
Riordan’s strong point, beside his fantastic writing style, is his character creation. Besides Piper in the Olympus series, I have yet to find a character I don’t like in these books (although I didn’t care much for the Kane’s). And he does it again with this trilogy. Here are the main characters for the Gods of Asgard series, although only Magnus is a POV character in this trilogy.
Duh, he’s the main character. He used to be homeless after his mother tragically died, which gives his character a lot more depth. It’s not the typical ‘priviliged white dude’ main character. Although, it could be said, he is one of the least interesting, seeing as his friends are so diverse. But Magnus is a cool main character and as I mentioned, I’d love to read another series featuring him.
Samirah Al Abbas
She’s a Valkyrie that brings Magnus to Walhalla after he dies. She’s a muslima, including a hijab. In the third book, she celebrates Ramadan. It’s awesome how Riordan brings a muslima into the story as a main character, and can therefore explain more about this religion, including current events: Sam uses the term ‘Allahu akbar‘. The following line follows, from Magnus’ POV:
I knew that term, but I’d never heard Sam use it before. I’ll admit it gave me an instinctive jolt in the gut. The news media loved to talk about how terrorists would say that right before they did something horrible and blew people up. I wasn’t going to mention that to Sam. I imagined she was painfully aware. She couldn’t walk the streets of Boston in her hijab most days without somebody screaming at her to go home, and (if she was in a bad mood) she’d scream back ‘I’m from Dorchester!’
Blitzen is a dwarf with a heart of gold and keen sense for fashion. He is one of the best friends of Magnus, as they looked out for each other when they were homeless. He’s not only a great fashion designer, he’s also a good fighter and inventor. He loves ducks and hates sunlight.
Hearthstone is the other best friend to Magnus and Blitzen, as he was also on the streets with them. He and Blitzen are very close. Hearthstone is a deaf elf, and throughout the series he only communicaties in sign language. Both Magnus and Blitzen can also communicate in ASL, so this gives them some adventages on their foes. Hearthstone has a tragic past of which we learn throughout the books. He is the sorcerer of the group and can create magic with the help of runes.
As mentioned, Alex Fierro is a genderfluid character. Alex switches gender to his/her liking. (S)he is very fierce, stubborn and sarcastic. Alex is the love interest for Magnus. I’ve linked to this before, but here is a great column about Alex and what it means to have such a character in a bookseries for children/YA.
Mallory Keen, Halfborn Gunderson & Thomas Jefferson, Jr.
These are the einherji hallmates of Magnus in Hotel Walhalla. Each has died and we learn how (and why) during the course of the trilogy. Mallory is from Ireland during the height of the IRA, Halfborn is a true Viking of old, and Thomas fought in the American Civil War. These three soon become friends to Magnus and they help him on his quests.
So, should you read Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard?
Um, yes, quite obviously. If you liked other books by Rick Riordan, you’ll also like this trilogy. If you want a fun and quick read, these are the books for you. It’s also a nice way to learn some of the basics about the Norse pantheon. But if you truly want to learn more, I’d recommend Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I must say that I liked both Olympian series better, but I think Magnus Chase is a better read than the Kane Chronicles or the Trials of Apollo. Let me know what you think about Magnus Chase and Riordan’s other books!