The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
You know you are in for trouble when the back cover synopsis lists “diversity” as a strength of the book. The character team in this novel is an angsty teenage Seattleite social-justice warrior’s dream, featuring a homeless runaway lead who has been misunderstood and rejected; a metrosexual black dwarf who wants to run a fashion line rather than craft weapons and is misunderstood and rejected; a deaf emo elf who with a tragic backstory and a sadistic father who was misunderstood and rejected; a devout Muslim Valkyrie who is in an arranged betrothal (presented very sympathetically) who is also misunderstood and rejected; and a shapeshifting, “gender-fluid” homeless youth who is also, you guessed it, misunderstood and rejected.
Let’s be honest, Riordan’s strength has never been in character development. His most consistent qualities are his snappy, fast paced writing, and his trademark snarky one liners. His books are all fun, light, quick reads, even if they tend to run a little repetitive. When he draws on the depth and power of his source material, i.e. the mythology of the nations that built western civilization, instead of mocking it, he does even better. He does have the capability to go deeper, as he demonstrated in his original Percy Jackson series. His adaptation of the curse of Achilles and the premise of Hestia as “The Last Olympian”, consciously or unconsciously brought greatness into the story. The development of the character Nico as a homosexual was rather well done in “The House of Hades,” and in fact allowed Riordan to introduce a truly profound thought about homosexuality. He pointed out that to the ancients the relationship between man and woman was a representation of the balance in the entire universe. Then he has the character wonder, “Where does that leave me.” However, he fails to live up to this question, and instead simply ignores it and has Nico begin an implied relationship with one of the other boys at camp in the next book.
His treatment of Alex Fiero in the Magnus Chase series was even more ludicrous. She remains at best a token character, despite being one of the leads, mostly because the dialogue he crafts for her reads like a gender theory manifesto. He attempts none of the hard questions that are raised by the existence of people like Alex, either for them or for the people who care about them, and simply trots out an unconvincing but politically correct storyline.
His treatment of the Norse Pantheon was far less sympathetic than was his treatment of the Greek and Roman pantheons, or the Egyptian in the Kane Chronicles. I am not here using the term “sympathetic” to mean approving, but rather to mean that he does not enter into the Norse viewpoint. The Norse gods, even more than with the others, are treated as ridiculous, inept, stupid and absurd. There is not even an attempt to tell the Norse stories in the spirit in which they were handed down, i.e. that of a cosmically tragic story of a short-lived, beautiful and precious moment of order and peace flowering up from a primordial state of chaos, but doomed to be destroyed by those forces of chaos in the end, and the courage and valor of those who chose to live on the side of the gods, knowing their ultimate destiny was to be utterly destroyed.
Instead, nearly every interaction between the protagonists and the gods in this trilogy results in Magnus Chase and his team mocking, shaking their heads, and outwitting them, often using the very powers that were given to them by their immortal parents to do their job better than they could. The obvious inference is that a diverse group of 21st century teenagers will always be smarter and wiser than the thousands of years of culture which brought them into being.
Enjoy Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus. Don’t bother with Magnus Chase.
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The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan