A reluctant Valkyrie, an exiled god, and a warrior who’s been there and done that set out to get in and out of hell and somehow stop the end of the world. (Did I mention there’s a cute doggy?)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, or at least as decreed by Norse Mythology in an event known as Ragnarok. Inevitably it is meant to end with a great battle, and to even up the odds, DNA testing is used to find the perfect warriors. Mist, a Valkyrie recruited using this method, becomes disheartened after a recruitment that goes terribly wrong. She decides that since the world is ending anyway, she should go and find her sister, who has somehow ended up in Hel. To get to Hel she needs to find the god Hermod, who has actually made it there and back. Hermod is currently wandering the streets of LA (with his Alaskan Malamute!) trying to keep his head down after leaving the realm of the gods many, many years ago. Of course, the last thing he wants is to go back to Hel, but somehow he gets sucked in through a series of unusual events.
Norse mythology meets California
Let me start by saying this is not a romance. It’s urban fantasy, and while you can tell from the get-go that yeah, okay, they’ll end up together in the end—I mean, come on, rollicking adventure throwing two people together? How can they not end with at least a kiss?—it’s not the main focus. The main focus is how the story of Ragnarok plays itself out today, in this time, in this world.
Greg van Eekhout does a fantastic job of interspersing Norse mythology with everyday California. Everything fits seamlessly with the cracked pavements of LA, the crowded beach fronts, and the throngs of people that still seem to be hanging around even if, like, you know, the world is ending. While I like reading mythology, most of what I know about Norse mythology features the “popular kids”: Odin, Thor, Loki.
Van Eekhout introduces us to the lesser known members of the pantheon, like Hermod, who despite being the unlikely, reluctant hero definitely steps up to the plate. He’s more of a beta hero, unassuming—for real, not like in the movies where the unassuming hero takes his shirt off and suddenly, he’s like, wow, Superman—and willing to do the right thing, even if it is not exactly what fate has decreed. Mist, on the other hand, is the perfect example of someone who has been swept up into something larger than she ever imagined, but always makes the most of what she’s given. She fights, but she’s not overeager or gung-ho. Like Hermod, she’s trying to do the right thing. And that’s what makes them so likeable.
The secondary characters are also interesting. They manage to blend in with the world in a realistic way. For example, the Valkyrie use of DNA mapping doesn’t seem so unusual. It also doesn’t feel forced that an Einherjar warrior is a wisecracking, gangster-like kick-arse mentor figure (minus the thug speak, you feel me?). As this is largely based on mythology, the animal figures have their roles to play. My favourite characters include the two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (thought and memory), who occasionally narrate certain parts of the story.
I really appreciated the originality of this tale. While I have read other books that have elements of Nordic mythology before, they are few and far between. So far this is the first one that has been adventure-filled, with less of the melancholy or even tongue-in-cheek comedy that is associated with writing about gods. Having been so used to god-filled romance novels with descriptions of rippled muscles, I also liked how this dude was a god but there wasn’t a really big focus on said muscles or on how, as a side plot, there was all this angst, usually because of a woman (Do I give up my godhood or not? Yes? No? What shall I doooooo?). Nope, he really did attempt to save the world first, then he just got lucky. I know that this not being a romance novel, obviously it wouldn’t be like that, but it was nice to see nevertheless.
Perhaps the only issue that I had with it was the title. I almost didn’t pick it up because it sounded too much like a sci-fi hybrid with the potential to go wrong, and I suspected it was about “Norse Mythology Technocrats in Space”? Ahhh, maybe not. I also showed it to a friend, who took one look and said, “Nose Code? There’s a sacred code of noses?!?” which doesn’t say much for the font, either! I’m glad I did pick it up, though, as I found it difficult to put down from the beginning.
Yay or nay?
A very big yay! I would highly recommend this for anyone who is looking for something original and imaginative that will draw you right in. I can’t praise the world building enough. I am looking forward to reading more of Van Eekhout’s work.
Norse Code is Greg van Eekhout’s first novel-length work. You can read about the inspiration for this book at the Whatever.