Synopsis: Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows–a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse God.
The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants, and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die…
First, I’m going to get the few negatives out of the way. For those of you who have read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books and his Kane Chronicles, you’ll find many of the same elements.
1. Underdog hero with a snarky sense of humor, sent on a death-defying quest.
2. Said hero is accompanied by a motley crew of misfits.
3. Working against them are an assortment of villains as well as figures who should be on their side but wind up working against them for a variety of reasons including jealousy and distrust.
4. The plot is made up of a series of small adventures which lead up to an epic battle.
So, admittedly there’s a lot here that’s highly derivative of Riordan’s previous work as well as other YA fantasy books. However, in this story he’s created new twists for not only his characters, but the plot as well, so I found I actually didn’t mind the similarities that much.
Magnus is a sixteen-year-old who has been on the run since his mother was killed by two wolves with glowing eyes. Magnus has two uncles, but he’s wary of going to them for help since his mother’s last words were to warn him not to trust them. He’s a smart kid who despite his mother’s tragic death and his less than ideal living arrangements retains his sense of humor and has some witty and spot-on observations of the world around him. One of the things I love about Rick Riordan is his ability to perfectly capture how teenagers talk and act. This uncanny ability is once again on full display in this story. It serves to make Magnus a sympathetic and relatable character who you root for as he embarks upon his hero’s journey.
Riordan is also known for bringing diversity through his characters into his books, and this has never been so prevalent as in this book. There’s Hearthstone, a deaf elf who communicates through sign language and is one of the only practitioners of rune magic. Blitzen, a dwarf, (or dark elf) who aspires to be a fashion designer. And best of all, a kick-ass teenage Valkyrie named Samirah all-Abbas, who is Muslim and has a magical hijab. These three open the door to discuss racial prejudices and disabilities both in real life as well as in the magical realm. While all the characters need some more development, The Sword of Summer has set a pretty solid foundation for some interesting and complex characters.
The plot itself is exciting and has all of Riordan’s trademark humor. Whether it’s Magnus’s one-liners and quips, or the amusing depictions of some of the mythological figures, or even the chapter titles themselves (Chapter 1. Good Morning! You’re Going to Die), I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. I don’t believe I’ll ever think of Thor and his hammer in quite the same way again! What I truly love about Riordan’s writing though is the way he consistently makes me want to learn more about his subject matter. With this new series he’s focusing on Norse mythology, which I don’t know as much about as I do the Greek myths behind his Percy Jackson series. Making things even more fascinating is the way he ties these myths and Viking history into Boston’s. For example, despite living just twenty minutes away, I had no idea that there are many scholars who believe that the Vikings made it as far north as Boston. I didn’t even know there’s a statue of Leif Erikson on Commonwealth Ave. to commemorate the finding in 1880 of the remainder of what many believe to be Norse settlements in Massachusetts. I’m a little embarrassed over this.
The book is almost overflowing with new characters and background, yet the story never becomes bogged down with too many details. There’s no romance, although you do start to wonder what Magnus’s and Sam’s relationship will develop into since she’s expected to marry a distant cousin as part of an arranged marriage orchestrated by her grandparents. There are also some ties to the world of Percy Jackson since Annabeth Chase is Magnus’s cousin and appears a couple of times in this book. I’m quite interested in seeing what her role will be in future books, and if it leads to other characters from the Percy universe appearing.
To sum things up I believe The Sword of Summer has much to offer to a wide audience. For tweens and teens, it’s an entertaining, yet also invaluable learning tool which can be used to spark interest in not only Norse mythology, but also the history of the Vikings and their impact in North America. For adults who love mythology in it’s many forms, this is an interesting and imaginative addition with tongue-in-cheek humor. I’m looking foward to where “Uncle Rick” takes his readers next on this promising new journey.