Thor's hammer is missing...again. The thunder god has a disturbing habit of misplacing his weapon - the mightiest force in the Nine Worlds. But this time the hammer isn't just lost; it has fallen into enemy hands. If Magnus Chase and his friends can't retrieve the hammer quickly, the mortal worlds will be defenseless against an onslaught of giants. Ragnarok will begin. The Nine Worlds will burn. Unfortunately the only person who can broker a deal for the hammer's return is the gods' worst enemy, Loki - and the price he wants is very high.
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The Hammer of Thor picks up where the Sword of Summer left us, alas, it left me rather disappointed.
First the good parts:
Rick Riordan still gives us some pretty hilarious moments (like the democratic Viking zombies, as Magnus calls them, or the banter with Jack and the other Einherjar) and there are scenes that are entertaining and suspenseful enough to keep tension. There are wacky and amusing takes on various gods and other entities as is expected and those who found Christopher Guetig disappointing, may like Kieran Culkin better, I admit, I am okay with both for the most parts, though MR Culkin sometimes was performing rather noticeably bad in a few spots...
With that said, now to the bad points:
1. There seems to be less magic and richness. The first book made some very nice efforts to give the strange, wonderful and weird feel of the different worlds and all the mythological entities. This book, it just does not give the same magical atmosphere to me. Of course it is partly due to visiting many known locations, but I found the descriptions less compelling and atmospheric overall. I think the sequels of Percy Jackson, or the Kane Chronicles were better in that regard. It may be a bit subjective, but it left less of a powerful impression, unlike the first book which created an actual wish to revisit it.
2. Characters feeling a bit less like themselves: Magnus personality seems a bit faded compared to his very outspoken attitude in the first book. He makes some jokes, he does not hold back his opinion, but whereas he stands out in the first book, he just does not seem to have the same development, the same intensity or the same liveliness here. This is tied to the later points, but it seems to be much less his story this time around and it shows... The other chief offender is Loki. I loved his charismatic, devious, unpredictable nature in the first book, I liked how we felt torn about sympathizing with him, I do not feel that this time around at all... And his plans seem not to be worth his trickster god fame either.
3. This one is a bit of a spoiler, but not much:
The new character, Alex Fierro, child of Loki. I feel a bit torn here because as a gay man (still a teen when the first Percy Jackson books came out), I definitely liked the fact that Rick Riordan included homosexual / bisexual characters before. I found it refreshingly true to the original myths in the Trials of Apollo and I thought that it was very relatable and quite authentic in The Heroes of Olympus. I could relate to that, I thought it was appropriate and it did not take a more important tole than other topics like issues with step parents, or the other issues the young protagonists face. The problem is maybe that very thing: non binary Alex Fierro is not a character who we see struggle and come to terms with their problems, not someone who we can easily relate to because we can see them figure things out for themselves. Alex is there and the focus seems to be more how other characters have to deal with her/him.
I really think that is a bad choice. We do not see Alex having to deal with the same kind of condescension Magnus had to go through, people praise her performance and skills (of which she, or he occasionally has many), we see a character who is confrontational, pretty much always gets to win and excel and who never has to face consequences. Especially because of the parallels to Magnus, it is pretty obvious that there is a double standard that does not make Alex very likeable. ...and whereas Nico had people react surprised but eventually supportive, helping him deal with his sexuality, Alex gets to confront people about how to treat her properly...
Sorry, but that is not any sort of positive inclusion, this is pushing things on other people, both in the story and outside. That does not help to make people tolerant and ready to accept others, this serves to dig the rifts deeper. And this is alas not something that stands out from how these topics are handled by media in general very much.
Alex is more a political statement than a living, breathing character you can relate to.
4. Samira and her faith:
I never took too much to Samira in the first book, but she does at least get her flaws and her struggles and I actually found the point of being torn between her traditional background and her wanting to have a career and being a Valkyrie a nice plot point. My own Muslim friends have had their struggle with that and I know that it is not easy to resolve.
But in this book, Samira it feels more like even the very norse gods whose existence is at odds with her religious upbringing cheering her on to be a religious Muslim while still getting to fit everything else in... That just does not seem to be how these kinds of stories go...
For a thought exercise, imagine a devout christian girl in Samira's place who would have the same sorts of attitudes and behavior. Would you expect the same kind of treatment? I honestly doubt that there would be the same universal respect and careful avoidance of problematic issues.
I am also not quite sure who he ultimately is trying to address here. I think that young adults who read his books are more likely to be struggling with the pressures on them to not get to freely leave Islam (the problems, often even violence facing ex-muslims is I think a problem that actually might benefit from being addressed), than to be as religious as Samira is portrayed to be...
"It is not my job to educate you", "Cultural appropriation", and in the last book before that, "mansplaining"...
If those words were just used in jest, it would be actually funny, but please, please do think of what you actually are saying here!
Cultural appropriation, if taken seriously, would pretty much lay waste to every book Rick Riordan has written. If you write about the mythologies of other cultures, other religions, how can you take such a ludicrous concept as cultural appropriation seriously? Are you aware what we would have to excise from our daily lives if we wanted to make a stance against cultural appropriation? Starting with the very letters we use, which are not of American, not of British, not of German, French or Spanish origin? Think about how many things have passed from one culture to another and then reconsider the idea of one culture "owning" something and you will realize how silly it soon gets.
And how shall we see someone, who both insists on everyone around her adapting to her wishes regarding how she is to be treated while at the same time saying something like "it is not my job to educate you". You can say that if someone demands explanations from you which you neither have the time, nor the inclination to give, but if you refuse, then how can you at the same time demand from them to inform themselves and change their behavior accordingly? I am gay, and when I want people around me to change their attitude, then the very thing I will do and have to do is try to educate them! That attitude seems lazy and entitled. People have fought for their tolerance, their equality under the law, chiefly by educating and informing the majority of people that discrimination and prejudice are wrong. We owe a lot to all the brave people who stood up and did educate others, even when it cost them much more than a bit of patience and time. I cannot accept that attitude, it just seems like a slap in the face of the people who fought so hard for us nowadays getting to grow up without having to be afraid of being persecuted by the law or being without recourse when someone attacks you for what you are.
I honestly am not sure if I will pick up the next book...