Monday, May 13, 2019

The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove

THE AGE OF ODIN falls into a genre of books that I like to call "lad lit," AKA, "by dudes, for dudes." It's basically The Hurt Locker with Norse mythology thrown in for shits and gigs, set among the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic icy hell, and honestly, that concept works better than it should. I picked up the first book in the series many years ago, with the same sense of disbelief. Greek gods using technology to conquer mankind? But yeah, it worked. It was silly and ridiculous AF, but somehow, it bloody worked. Now brace yourselves, and hold onto your hot cocoa: there's spoilers ahead.

It's the near future and the entire world has plummeted into an Arctic winter. Places that never get snow, like the Caribbean and Florida, are encrusted in ice. Gideon and his friend "Abortion" are ex-army guys with injuries who hear about something called the Valhalla Project, where men like them get paid big bucks for paramilitary duties. They seek out the compound but get lost in the woods, and Gideon is horrified to see his friend torn apart by wolves (I don't consider that a spoiler since it happens early on).

Gideon is rescued from a similar death by mysterious people all going by Scandinavian-sounding names, who take him to the compound he was looking for. Other ex-army guys are there, with charmingly PC names like "Backdoor," "Paddy" (he's Irish), and "Chopsticks" (he's Asian). It takes Gideon a painfully long time to put together that his benefactors are all calling themselves the names of the long-lost Norse gods. Harmless eccentricity, he thinks - until it seems to feel more cult-like.

Because Denial isn't just a river in Egypt, Gideon decides that they're all crazy and he's bitten off way more than he can chew. But a magic tree, talking ravens, and supernatural home video session change his mind. Humans just aren't as gullible as they used to be, I guess. Too many Nigerian Prince scams to teach them to be suspicious. The gods tell him that they are raising an army because Ragnarok is coming, and they've got to stop Loki, God of Mischief, from destroying them all in an arctic blaze. How does Loki manage this, you ask? Well, that's a pretty major spoiler - and the twist is... surprising.

I used to read a lot of lad lit when I was younger, before I realized how much of it actually offended me with its portrayals of women and minorities and sexuality. I'm not going to lie to you - there is a lot in THE AGE OF ODIN to be offended by, and I'm not really sure if this is just Lovegrove trying to write a realistic, uneducated, blue collar, ex-army guy and succeeding wildly, or if it's indicative of the author's own personal biases. But yeah, the rep of women in here was not great - they're all wildly attractive, ball-busting women, regardless of whether they're good or evil. The one Asian character is nicknamed Chopsticks and gets killed, and the other minority character is a bad guy.

Also, there are many moments in this book that come off as transphobic. Gods are gender-fluid in this book, and one in particular can assume forms of the opposite sex. This is something that elicits disgust from all the characters, and there's a number of jokes and remarks about it. I didn't like that. What made it even more irritating was that I'd just read another urban fantasy novel about immortals who were also gender fluid (which was also written by a man), only it was handled with care and not made out to be some kind of sick joke. That book was Indra Das's THE DEVOURERS, and you'll be happy to know that it has characters of color who aren't killed off as plot points.

I did think THE AGE OF ODIN was entertaining but reading this made me wonder if the previous two books in this series were just as problematic, or if Lovegrove was just trying to make Gideon seem rough and unlikable. Either way, I think this is worth a read for the world-building and the artistic license the author takes with Norse mythology, but maybe not if you're easily offended and would feel uncomfortable reading about any of the scenarios I mentioned in the previous paragraphs.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

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