Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Adventure? Check. Found family? Check. Falafel? Check. Diversity and complexity shared by retellings of Norse Mythology and the world that created it? Check, check, check!
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.
In my review of The Sword of Summer, I hinted that I’d picked up this series based on the promise of the appearance of a certain genderqueer character. She (or, less often, he) is HERE. Folks, meet Alex Fierro, who is all the awesome I hoped for. To start, the author who is cis, het, white, and male, did not try to write from Alex’s perspective. What he did was to introduce Alex with a male gaze. Talk about risky. This part was hard to read, especially through the variance in response to Alex as an argr either with fear or contempt or caution or—in the case of Jack, Magnus’ sword—a not just a bit fetishizing. I almost put the book down, thinking Riordan miscalculated.
In the next moment, however, Magnus got his own experience of Alex in the form of a cheetah ripping through Valhalla. Not only was this in stark contrast to the conversations he’d been part of up to that point, it became very clear that Alex was not to be trifled with nor was Alex going to be anything anyone expected her (and sometimes him) to be. Not from the deep shade of green of Alex’s hair to the shape-shifting ability shunned by Alex’s half-sister and Valkyrie Samirah al-Abbas who fears that for every time she changes shape, she gives her father Loki (who is also Alex’s mother) more power over the two of them. And certainly not from the way Alex decapitates our hero, saving him from a worse fate (trust me, this works in context).
Soon, the male gaze shifted into a lover’s gaze as smitten Magnus is reincarnated. From this perspective, he asks all the questions. Some are insightful; many are not. Alex gets annoyed. Magnus has to figure out why. He’s on his toes, trying to figure his way around this new-to-him gender space. My favorite part is how closely he watches Alex and recognizes as she becomes a he or vice versa. This part, the part where Magnus sees Alex, is so respectful, so healing, so lovely. At least for me. I mean, this is a pair of characters, one of which will announce in the middle of a scene, “By the way, my pronouns are now she/her,” and the other who acknowledges this instantly. Granted, one could say this is the last Magnus could do, as an ally, as a friend. Even so, this is a representation I’ve not seen much of in queer books, never mind a series destined for mainstream distribution and best seller lists.
I could go on.
So I will!
But I will, at least, transition to the other amazing parts of this book/series.
There’s Blitzen, the most fashionable dwarf ever, and his life-partner Hearthstone, a deaf elf and wizard. They are unquestionably life-partners. Are they a couple? Maybe. Maybe not. It isn’t discussed. But they are partners. Part of me ships them. Another part of me hopes they are written as happily Ace (possibly romantic Ace). What I hope, more than anything, is that someone reading them sees themselves in their possibility of being either. And of that being okay. Because these two are amazing. More than that, many characters—humans, gods, giants, dwarves, einherjar—speak ASL fluently. That’s a thing in this book. The words, letters, phrases are shared with the reader. There are characters who choose not to learn or choose not to engage with Hearth in this way and it means something about that character.
In the way Alex is seen by her (and sometimes his) einherji family, Hearth is heard. The reader is given clue after clue after clue of how to be family, how to acknowledge someone who might appear to be other but just is. Thus the gateway of exploring all of these wonderful characters is open from start to finish. Startling, considering the dysfunction demonstrated by these characters’ actual families. The Gods of Asgard series explores acceptance and inclusivity against the backdrop of families who could just as much love you as they might put you out–or worse. This book deals with very complex issues in a very kind way, all while dishing up ten tons of fun.
For example, how many stories will you encounter where a god, born of nine mothers, almost butt-dials the apocalypse? I mean, really…
What you may not like: As stated above, the initial male gaze prickles. It lessens as Magnus becomes his own character. Ultimately, it’s interesting to see how this ‘usual’ conversation is listened to and ultimately rejected, giving further credence to characters reclaiming their space, their identity, their heritage and more.
What you will love: This series is absurd and totally wonderful even while it examines real questions of worth, value, and belonging. The villains are so evil, the heroes are so imperfect. The myths are retellings of the originals with small changes to make our characters fit the plot. Things go so, so wrong and this happens so, so often. The tension is wonderful. Ultimately, this book is really fun, very funny, and simply fantastic. I love it so much.
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra