Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Age of Odin (Book 3 of The Pantheon series)

www.tips-fb.com

by James Lovegrove

Continuing his unique style of fusing mythology with modernity is Lovegrove's third installation of The Pantheon series, with the Norse gods in the limelight this time. The Age of Zeus may have secured my unwavering attention to the series, but this next novel in the series equally ruined it.

Pages upon pages of profanity served to diminish my appetite for a good plot and narrative, and with neither clever tactics nor show of godly power, my plate of stars went down with the each turning page.

One-liner intro: Profanity-filled modern Ragnarök - intense, fast-paced and in full military style.

Best part: Refreshing depiction of how the Norse mythology adapt to modern ways; readers familiar with Norse mythology could still surprised with the modern version of certain mythological beasts; a very interesting and surprising ending; continued use of idiomatic expressions and word play; funny monologue narrative; brush up one's Norse mythology to contradict with what was learned through cinema and comics.

Not-so-best part: Wanton use of profanity; lack of interesting display of godly powers; lack of clever tactics to fight against the threat.

Thor vs Loki as depicted in this 2010 San Diego Comic Con poster. You can be sure of a showdown with Loki in The Age of Odin, but not as grand as in the movie, nor as magical (image taken from The Blot Says).
Enter The Waning Norse Age of Odin

The protagonist of the story, Gideon Coxall, was a great soldier, but was left injured after a war and had to be laid off the armed forces. Without being good at anything else, he was at the downturn of his life when news of the Valhalla Project reached him. With former service personnel with commendable experience like his being recruited in unspecified combat operations, he had little option but to try his chance at this offer.

What he least expected was to fight alongside as well as against mythical beings while the world was in the throes of one of the worst winter of all time. For this was not any winter, nor that a simple war. This was Ragnarök, the fabled final conflict of the Nordic sagas, in which even gods die.


Ragnarök, the battle where gods die (image taken from Myth and Popular Culture).

What makes Norse mythology unique and one of my fascination is the way the Vikings portrayed their gods. Gods are venerated beings, omnipotent and almighty, and most importantly, immortal. Well, most of them are anyway. But with the Vikings' warrior culture and bloodlust, it is only usual that they look forward to death themselves, envisioning falling in battle with glory, being hoisted away to Valhalla on the winged horses of the Valkyries, the warrior maidens. Since they are going to die gloriously in war, they dare not leave their gods out of such glorious death. Hence Ragnarök. So all gods die, end of story.

But such battle which depicts the fall of gods will be one of epic proportions, worthy of a bard's tale. And Lovegrove jumped upon the opportunity and spun a tale reimagining the gods' war in a modern setting. Unlike The Age of Zeus though, the Norse version of the story had the gods being depowered version of their majestic bygone days. The novelty of this concept lies in its departure from the usual mindset of gods always being omnipotent beings as well as offering an explanation as to how the gods could have lost in Ragnarök. 



Well, recent addicts of Facebook would have saw some viral pictures of these Thor images portrayed in various funny actions... Having said that, the same character in The Age of Odin was so depowered and sidelined that it was disappointing (image taken from Collider.com).

Instead of riding winged steeds, the Valkyries drove snowmobiles; instead of spears and battleaxes, the Aesir and Vanir employed submachine guns and grenades. Mythological beings still existed in The Age of Odin, with frost giants of Jotunheim and trolls making their mark on the final battle. Making their appearance as well are certain beings from the other Nine Realms, such as Hel from Helheim, though they were mostly sidelined and with the exception of Hela, were only mentioned in the story.

The Norse gods' embrace with technology made it fun to try to predict how certain mythological beings and events will turned out to be, making The Age of Odin a fun read even if the reader is very familiar with Norse mythology and know the outcome of certain battles. Try to imagine what Jörmungandr (Midgard serpent coiling around the world), Fenrir (a gigantic wolf) and Sleipnir (eight-legged floating horse) will all turn out to be. Particularly memorable to me was how the Norns show Gideon his past, present and future. One would have expected something sort of a crystal ball or vision pools and such, but they way their modern version was portrayed strikes me as ingenious as well as refreshing.


Thor's popularity in Norse mythology surpasses that of even Odin's, despite Odin being the lord of the pantheon. His fame is so much so that many modern art and cultural references chose him over Odin as their focus, as seen in the Tomb Raider game series, Underworld (image taken from Lara Croft Online).

Depowering the gods lent more credibility to the death of gods in Ragnarök, but it was a double-edged sword and cuts both way. Somehow I expected more out of Thor and his hammer, Mjölnir, especially with The Avengers making an impressive display of the God of Thunder's command of lightning. Not only was Thor being a disappointment (yeap, neither lightning nor thunder was summoned), but so was Odin, without lending any of his supposed wisdom throughout the story, acting his part only as an old man with a hat covering an eye.

Diminished power aside, reading Lovegrove's The Age of Odin did help me brush up on my lore of Norse myths. With Loki being featured prominently in Marvel's Thor series as his brother, it is easy for one to accept this for a fact. So imagine my surprise when I read that Loki was actually Odin's blood brother, making him sort of Thor's uncle. Yeah, I know how you feel.

Loki will be the death of the gods, just as it was prophesied. But be surprised at how he will make a comeback in The Age of Odin, because it will not be the way it was in The Avengers (image taken from Loki Could Have Done It).

Cursing The Age of Odin

Lovegrove returned with his colorful use of English idioms and clever wordplay. Thrown in this time as well are the witty remarks while Gideon narrates his story in an intense monologue filled with funny taunts, surprising discovery and ugly profanities. Of greatest distaste to me was the latter - the never-ending litany of curses.

Even if Lovegrove wanted to make the story more realistic from a soldier's point of view, swearing of every different kind served only to diminish whatever respect I had for the story's good writing. For the most part though, I was too caught up with his concise explanation of the forgotten lore in the narrative, making the introduction of Norse mythology to the reader as painless and as interesting as possible. 

Odin may not own superpowers like those of Zeus and Ra, but he still pack a punch as he was constantly at war with enemies from different realms to protect Asgard (image taken from Cracked.com).

The Gods in The Age of Odin

Maybe I was too engrossed with Odin and Thor being the main gods, or at least the more famous gods, of the Norse pantheon, and Lovegrove's tactic of depowering them made them puny to me. A little too puny in fact. Odin, by sacrificing one of his eye in exchange for wisdom offered none that is of use, and in fact Gideon being not a particularly smart person, could at least direct the battle better than him. Thor, who should be the god of thunder and lightning, summoned no impressive display of power save for using his Mjölnir to pound on enemies.

The gods in The Age of Odin somehow seemed less interesting compared to their counterpart from The Age of Zeus. Maybe it was due to the fact that they were left powerless, or maybe that the Norse gods were just less famous compared to those from the Greek lore. Whatever the reason, I was not particularly drawn to them as much as I did in The Pantheon's second installation.

Mythological beings of doom which invaded Asgard in The Age of Odin, such as Jörmungandr, were portrayed creatively as something similar yet different from the original. Still, my award for surprising and impressing me with an alternative version of the Midgard Serpent is reserved for Tomb Raider: Underworld (and no, this image is still not enough to even hint at what Jörmungandr really is in the game) (image taken from Laracroft.name)

The characters in The Age of Odin did not fare any better as well, but at least there were less of them to begin with compared to The Age of Zeus, where I need to contend with twelve characters and remember which was which. Once more, Lovegrove's skill in presenting obvious and memorable characteristics of each character serve to aid the reader in differentiating them from each other.

Apart from the gods, the next most interesting beings of a myth would be the beasts, and especially in this case, the beasts which will bring doom to the gods. One would expect the full majesty of Fenrir the wolf, Jörmungandr the Midgard Serpent, or Naglfar, a ship made of nails (as in fingernails). These beings and items too did not appear in the usual magical form, but at least they were more interesting than the gods.

Their replacements were similar to what they represent and were able to mimic the abilities of the originals, but even though they were portrayed creatively with surrogates, they still failed to impress me. I was expecting more surprising and symbolic revelations of the mythological beings, maybe with Yggdrasil, the worldtree, not being a real tree at all, or that Jörmungandr turned out to be something which makes sense when represented as a serpent. Or maybe I was still influenced by how Tomb Raider: Underworld portrayed the myth successfully into an impressive story with interesting explanation of what the beasts were.

Lovegrove could have reinvent what the Norse mythological beings, such as Yggdrasil the World Tree, could be instead of what we always thought they would be, to leave a lasting impression of the story (image taken from Web Design Blog).

Closing The Age of Odin

As it is for The Age of Zeus, this is no walk under the sun. The whole book is filled with doom and gloom of the death of gods, reminding you that you knew they were going to die, yet were unable to do anything. Interestingly, the ending of the story really got me pleasantly surprised. The ending that was served may not sit well with everyone, but at least it did impress a lasting memory on the book. All in all, a worthy read, but I still like the Greek variant better.




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...