Minor Spoilers for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Hammer of Thor
I finally, finally was able to read and finish the second Magnus Chase book. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf all year, sad and lonely and collecting dust because I’ve been stuck reading textbooks. I shouldn’t complain. I’ve been fortunate enough to graduate with a B.A. and these kinds of sacrifices are expected. But there’s only so much reading I can do on American Constitutional law before I get itchy for some Ricky. (Wow, that’s bad. Sorry.)
Anyway, Magnus. With The Sword of Summer, I was impressed once again by Rick Riordan’s excellent storytelling, sense of humor, and ability to handle complicated issues in a kid-friendly way. I also loved how he’s actively making the cast diverse: Samirah is a Muslim, Magnus is homeless (and quite possibly queer), and Hearthstone is deaf. However, I did not consider it on par with his Percy Jackson series, even though Magnus Chase is technically in that series because it’s all in the same crazy world.
It’s probably because The Sword of Summer didn’t really offer anything new. It was basically the same story as Percy Jackson, just dropped in Norse mythology rather than Greek. Also, there’s no Nico di Angelo. Which means there’s no Solangelo. I was more excited about Trials of Apollo because we got to see more of that adorableness missing in The Sword of Summer.
For those of you who used to read my old blog, this may be confusing. I’ve ranted about romantic subplots on multiple occasions. That’s because 90% of the time they are annoying, they reduce the girl/woman to nothing more than a sex object, and they serve no purpose to the overall plot. I touched on this last week. Some examples include Megan Fox’s character in Transformers, Arwen in Lord of the Rings, and every single superhero movie ever.
The other 10% are the well-written romantic subplots. They happen when A) the romance has a major impact on the story and/or characters; B) the girl (if there is a girl) can still stand on her own within the story without the love interest; and the optional C) it’s adorable. We see this with Leia and Han in Star Wars, Anna and Kristoff in Frozen, and pretty much every relationship in Rick Riordan’s books. For instance: Solangelo hit point A in Blood of Olympus, point B does not apply, and point C needs no explanation.
Then I read Magnus Chase book two, Hammer of Thor, and I can honestly say this series is as good as, if not better than, the Percy Jackson series. I’m not entirely sure what made me love the series so much more. Maybe it was Heimdall taking selfies. It might have been the Game of Thrones reference at the very end. It could be because it centered on a Norse myth I’d actually read and knew (in a book that had illustrations; the image of a burly, bearded Thor in a wedding dress is forever seared in my memory). It could’ve been seeing Hearthstone’s family and getting more of his tragic, intriguing background.
Maybe it was Alex Fierro, who is quite possibly my favorite character, and who I ship with Magnus like 99% of Rick Riordan’s fanbase. A lot has already been said about her (sometimes him) in other reviews (like this one, and this one, and this one…). Putting a genderfluid transgender character in a kids’ book is a bold move, one I wholeheartedly support; especially since it plays into the larger theme of defying gender roles: Blitz is a man with a degree in fashion, Samirah is a kickass warrior, Magnus is a nurturing healer (a role usually assigned to girls/women), and now we have Alex, who comes right out and says that (s)he will decide what is masculine or feminine as it relates to her, and if anyone has a problem they can shove it.
But having a genderfluid character only works if it’s done well. There have been some legitimate complaints about Alex. Not from the transphobes; we’ll just ignore them. Some fans argue that Alex is a token, a vessel for Rick to educate the youngins about gender. They do have a point: her largest defining trait is her gender. It comes up in almost every conversation she participates in. And unlike Samirah, who has a career goal, a romantic goal, heavy influence from her mortal family, and religious depth, Alex...doesn’t.
Now, we still have another book in this series. We didn’t know a whole lot about Hearth until visiting his homeworld in Hammer of Thor. And Alex, being a child of Loki and coming from a rough background, has good reason not to trust anyone with her life story. She refused to let Magnus heal her for as long as possible because she was afraid he’d read her mind.
Also, while Magnus has religious depth (being an atheist counts) and it looks like he now has the beginnings of a romantic goal in Alex, he wasn’t thinking very far ahead when he was living on the streets. He and Alex do not have the luxury Sam, Blitz, and Hearth do in career aspirations and dreams for the future. For one, they’re dead. Two, being homeless narrows your options down to surviving that day. Alex is fluid, changeable, and lives in the moment. That’s how she survived as long as she did in her old life, and that’s how she’s survived this long in her afterlife. The fact that she lacks career goals is completely understandable.
So I’m not too worried about Alex being flat and underused. She provides an excellent contrast to her half-sister Sam, and the gate is wide open for sibling disputes in book three. If she and Magnus do end up together, they’re going to spend a lot of time talking and sharing stories, which will provide an opportunity for character backstory and development. And if Rick managed to create a racially diverse cast of seven major characters, all of whom are in a romantic relationship and all of whom are complex, three-dimensional people, plus the adorableness that is Solangelo, I think he can handle Alex Fierro.
Admit it: we all want this to happen.
What’s been overshadowed by Alex in this book, and what I think is the most impressive feat, is getting into Samirah’s faith. The words “Muslim” and “Allah” never showed up in Sword of Summer. She wears the hijab, and there’s one line where she mentions going to mosque with her grandmother. Other than that, nothing. The arranged marriage with Amir is a cultural thing, not necessarily a religious thing. We’re all concerned about Alex being a two-dimensional token now? Last year I was worried about the opposite: having Sam talk about everything but her religion, like it somehow doesn’t influence any of her decisions or views of the world. I wouldn’t have been surprised, since the fact that we have an Arabic Muslim as one of the good guys is a step in the right direction. But I would’ve been disappointed.
Luckily, I worried over nothing. Hammer of Thor tackled her Islamic faith head-on. The Muslim Valkyrie says point-blank that the "gods" she's serving are not gods. They're just powerful beings created by her god, Allah. She asks Magnus to keep an eye out while she prays, with a prayer mat and everything, and we see how that ritual is a source of strength for her. Magnus overhears her muttering Arabic prayers near the end, right before the major fight with Loki and the giants. These days, when the media is clogged with portrayals of "radical Islam" and ISIS and scary brown people, Rick presents us with the peaceful, tranquil side of Islam. It's a much-needed message in this day and age.
There are a dozen reasons to love Hammer of Thor. For me, the biggest reason is this: it’s not the end of the story.
The last scene in Hammer of Thor had Annabeth deciding to introduce Magnus to Percy. We’ve all been dreaming of this moment ever since Sword of Summer came out. How do you think this meeting is going to go?
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!