Book: The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3)

"The Ship of the Dead"

Magnus Chase, son of Frey, the god of summer and health, isn’t naturally inclined toward being a brave warrior. Still, with the help of his motley group of friends, he has achieved deeds he never would have thought possible. Now he faces his most dangerous trial yet.

Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, along with a crew of giants and zombies, to sail against the Norse gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. But Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

If you’re a fan of Rick Riordan books, which I sort of am, then this book should be right up your alley. Just… don’t expect too much from it. Touted as the third book in the author’s Norse-mythology series, The Ship of the Dead is also the finale of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Except–

The Ship of the Dead doesn’t read like a finale. Well, the last chapters do, but prior to the obvious send-off to these new set of characters, the whole book felt like a third installment that would lead to a finale. And the whole time I was reading, I never entertained the notion that this is where the story would end. Because the stakes are the same. The adventures, albeit fun to read, are the same. The challenges and the “inner demons” are the same. There was no point in the book where I felt like the characters were seriously endangered. There was no one instance when I felt that there was a threat.

Before I continue, I will say that there will be spoilers ahead.

The problem with the third installment of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is that the villains are a dud. Loki, after being built up as a formidable enemy in the first two books, doesn’t really do anything in this one. He’s relegated to dreams and visions that don’t really do anything, because our protagonists aren’t endangered. The characters, although harmed throughout their adventures, always have Magnus Chase to heal them when things get too bad. The whole thing reads like a bedtime story for a kid who only wants happy endings.

Thing is, we know Rick Riordan can do better. The first Percy Jackson series effectively evoked our fears in the final two books. Although we knew the good guys would win, we didn’t know who we could lose. And we felt like we could really lose someone. The second Percy Jackson series did the same, although with a dud book along the way. Even The Kane Chronicles had a sense of foreboding. And this is why I feel the closer to the Magnus Chase is a disappointment. Yes there is closure… but there’s not much else in it.

That said, I applaud Rick Riordan for the subtle romance between our hero and Alex Fierro. It’s there. Simmering. But never in-your-face about it. He’s never preachy about Alex’s gender-fluidity, and it’s treated like it’s normal. As just another fact, alongside the green hair and the penchant for pink.

In this book, we also learn more about Magnus’s after-life friends. And this is where most of my disappointment stems from. I feel like we could have had another book, just so we could fully explore the background of the other characters. Who they are, and what they are to each other. Especially with how Magnus solves the threat.

I couldn’t help but think, after putting the book down, that The Ship of the Dead wasn’t planned to be an ending, but that Riordan ran out of steam and decided to just have it serve as the finale. And it didn’t help that I have just recently seen Thor: Ragnarok which confronted the Norse apocalypse. The Ship of the Dead felt like a cop out in comparison.

Book: The Sword of Summer, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book 1

"Magnus Chase 1: The Sword of Summer"

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down–his Uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzles pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents…

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

And the Riordan magic is back.

Well, sort of.

The first Magnus Chase book, The Sword of Summer, isn’t breaking new grounds. In fact, the premise of a lost weapon isn’t new at all–as it was employed in the very first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief. Fortunately, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Well, that and the fact that Annabeth Chase also plays a part in Magnus’s life. Though, only a very small part for now.

Magnus, although just as plucky as the other Riordan heroes, has a more practical way of viewing the world. He’s also the first Riordan hero we have who isn’t all sunshines-and-rainbows. Which is probably because prior to getting introduced to the readers, he’s already been living in the streets for two years. And I think this is the reason why The Sword of Summer feels different (in a good way) from the other series beginnings from Rick Riordan. It no longer feels like a Percy Jackson retread.

To be fair, neither did The Red Pyramid, the first book from the Kane Chronicles. I had a different problem with the format Riordan employed in telling that story. But that’s a discussion for a different post–one that I actually already wrote about a few years ago.

Going back to Magnus Chase–

The Sword of Summer isn’t actually as engaging as any of the Percy Jackson books… Well, maybe more engaging than The Mark of Athena. Which is maybe because Norse Mythology isn’t as well-known as Greek, Roman, or even Egyptian myths? Or it could also be because we’ve suddenly gotten an influx of Norse-mythology-based material with the Thor movies and the Witches of East End book and television series– Whatever the reason, it doesn’t have that Percy Jackson magic.

What it does have though is chutzpah. Riordan knows he’s written a lot of books based on mythologies. He knows that this is his fourth mythology-driven series, and it shows that he’s trying to veer away from familiar territory. Maybe he realized that his Heroes of Olympus series didn’t start out so well, feeling like a retread of the original Percy Jackson series. And so Magnus Chase immediately sets out to be different. Which I like.

Reading The Sword of Summer, you can see that the series has the potential to be just as good (if not better) than the Percy Jackson series. The Norse Mythology doesn’t feature gods and goddesses who have to be better than the people who worship them. And their tragedies are already foretold. Unlike the Percy Jackson series where you have an idea that the characters you care for will be safe, the first book in the Magnus Chase series is quick to skewer that idea… By killing the protagonist within the first few chapters.

So, sure, liking the book wasn’t as immediate as it was when I picked up the first Percy Jackson book. But the future is looking bright for Magnus Chase. And I, for one, cannot wait to see how Riordan tops his past three mythology-based series.