The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Digital Audiobook narrated by Christopher Guetig
Published by Disney-Hyperion Books on October 6, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Mythology
Length: 499 pages or 15 hours, 21 minutes
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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 the 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 puzzle 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.
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t love Magnus Chase, and usually more than they love Percy Jackson. All of Rick Riordan’s series are greatly acclaimed, but Magnus, in particular, gets a lot of love in my circles. Having loved Percy Jackson and known how much my friends enjoyed The Sword of Summer, I was ready to love it too.
And you know, it was fine? Entertaining enough, and the story moved along okay, but I really don’t think it is Riordan’s best work? I know a fair amount of Norse mythology and as usual, Rick Riordan has done his research. But this book was just a little too silly for me to fully enjoy.
This is where I step aside to remind myself that The Sword of Summer is a middle grade novel. And it is highly successful as a middle grade novel. The jokes about swearing and the emphasis on Thor farting.. well… the intended audience will definitely giggle. And if that’s your brand of humor, that’s awesome. You’ll like The Sword of Summer as well! But the “immature” sense of humor aggravated me more than it amused me (it amused me never, actually) so a lot of this book fell flat on its face for me.
The characters failed to impress as well. There were aspects to all of them that were interesting, but as a group, I was just bored. Magnus relied entirely on bad jokes to get him through the book. Blitz’s interest in fashion was his loudest defining characteristic, and after about the first third of the book, that was just exhausting. There was a lot to like about Heart, but he was the least featured of the group. And Samirah? She had an interesting backstory, but she was firmly in the role of sidekick here and did not live up to her full potential. Or maybe it was just Magnus’ constant tongue-in-cheek comments that took away from other characters, like watching a badly commentated Little League game.
There’s this old sketch on Saturday Night Live called “The Californians”, and one of their runnings gags is to name-drop all the highways in their dialogue… and it’s funny because it’s a joke. The Sword of Summer does the same thing with Boston… except… it’s obnoxious. And that’s in part because it’s a 15 hour book, not a 5 minute sketch. Honestly, after the fifth familiar street name, a heavy fog settled over me like “okay, so it’s going to be like this.” Riordan doesn’t do this with New York City in The Lightning Thief, so I’m not sure why he had to name every street, monument, and prominent building in Boston. Annoying.
Finally, there’s the inevitable comparison – Magnus Chase vs. Percy Jackson (I haven’t read the Kane Chronicles yet). There are a lot of parallels between the two, which made Magnus’ story feel less original. Percy and Magnus were both raised by their mothers and abandoned by their fathers. They both end up in a place where they feel they don’t belong. They both go quest-hunting with a girl and at least one magical creature. They both have to deal with the denizens of the Underworld. They both have swords that turn into something else. I guess in some of these, it’s just the rules of the world but where Percy felt more grounded… Magnus was just largely ridiculous. I also feel strongly that the minor characters in The Sword of Summer are far less developed, which takes away a level of depth to the story as a whole.
A lot of these are nitpicky things. I think that middle grade readers (the intended audience) are going to love The Sword of Summer as a sillier version of Percy Jackson. I think people who haven’t read Percy will enjoy it more because they aren’t comparing. And I think people who have nostalgic memories about Percy will love diving back into this world. It’s not a bad book, I just… I expected more, Rick Riordan.
What is your favorite Norse myth? A lot of Norse mythology is really out there, a bit more abstract than Greek and Roman. I think Hel’s story is interesting, but I’d love to hear about your favorite myths in the comments!