Solaris Books (http://www.solarisbooks.com)
592 pp, Mass Market Paperback
The Norse gods are real, and they are preparing for Ragnarok in the 21st Century by enlisting ex-soldiers into their army through the Valhalla project. In fact, the short hand description for The Age of Odin is military science fiction infused with a healthy dose of Neil Gaiman American Gods. The Age of Odin is the third (and at the time, final) entry in Lovegrove’s thematically connected Pantheon saga, and here he takes a slightly different twist of myth to explain how the gods of myth, this case Norse myth, function in modern day. It is a distinctly more fantastical scenario than The Age of Zeus, though no less enjoyable.
The Age of Odin, by British author James Lovegrove, takes this idea and runs with it full tilt. When Gideon “Gid” Dixon, a retired soldier who realizes the only thing in his life which gave him happiness and success was fighting, is enticed by the aforementioned Valhalla project, he cannot pass up the opportunity to join. Gid has a hard time believing the big man in charge of the Valhalla project is actually the Allfather of Norse Myth, Odin. Odin is preparing for the fated final battle, and as Gid joins Odin’s forces, he brawls with and fights alongside Thor, becomes enamored with Freya, is healed by Odin’s wife Frigga and learns of the treacherous deeds of Loki.
Lovegrove’s narrative makes no apologies for the over-the-top concept of the story, though the balance here is that he does take it as seriously as possible, and tells a story that is gripping. In totality, Lovegrove has written a book that is difficult to put down. In some senses, the novel reads as a very high-octane masculine fantasy, but again, Lovegrove’s storytelling ability helps to gloss over any shortcomings. The novel is told in the first person and works very well to convey the protagonist’s thoughts and of course, how Gid sees the Norse Gods as real. Gid is not too well versed in Norse mythology so it takes a bit for him to fully guess at the gravity of his situation. Lovegrove injects quite a bit of humor into the story, mostly through Gid’s snarky comments. Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel is Lovegrove’s ability to end each chapter on a hook that begs the next chapter to be started. This ‘cliffhanger’ sense did not become too wearying, as is often the case when writers employ this tool of the trade, rather, I worked very well for me.
The villain of the piece is, of course, Loki. This should be no surprise as Loki, the trickster and half-brother of Thor, is often cast as the villain in Norse-infused stories, especially those published by Marvel Comics. I also really liked Lovegrove’s characterization of Odin, who at times was quite distant from the action.
My only minor complaint was the ending, at least how I initially thought Lovegrove was going to close the novel. Throughout the entire novel, Lovegrove adds a lot of swerves into the story, probably the greatest and most over the top is the antagonist, and the ending is no different. All told, a thoroughly entertaining novel that I would recommend to those looking for a “summer blockbuster with a Norse flair and thought.”
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford