Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan: Review

At a time when Thor and Ragnarok are quite the popular terms thanks to a certain film franchise, Magnus Chase and his merry band of einherjar — the undead warriors of Valhalla — are doing their all to prevent it. Unlike the movie, however, Magnus does not have the hunky God of Thunder and his hulky green friend for assistance.

Rick Riordan is back with his signature style of writing for the young adults, with a huge side portion of sarcasm and suspended belief. The Ship of the Dead is the final instalment in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series; and there is a surprise appearance by Percy Jackson, his brilliant sword Riptide and girlfriend Annabeth Chase, too.

To give a background, Magnus Chase is the half-dead, half-living einherji who lives in Hotel Valhalla along with his friends Mallory Keen, Thomas Jefferson Jr., Halfborn Gunderson and Alex Fierro. While the Greek gods and the demi-god population live in California, Magnus and the Norse mythological creatures live on American east coast in, near and around Boston.

Like in all his books, Riordan gives Magnus, too, the sense of humour in the face of certain death. Even the most tragic situations—like child abuse, extremely gory battles, merciless bullying — is lined with some comedy. Even the end of the world, near Ragnarok situation is not going to put a dampener on the humour.

Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 456; Price: Rs 599

In this final instalment of Magnus Chase’s adventures, Loki has been freed of his chains and is retrofitting Naglfar — the eponymous ship of the dead (though it is actually ship of nails of the dead) — with an army of giants and undead humans to fight the Asgardian gods and jumpstart Ragnarok. It’s not up to chase and the lovely band of friends — Blitz the fashionable dwarf, Hearth the deaf sorcerer elf and Valkyrie Sam, along with the inhabitants of Hotel Valhalla floor Nineteen Alex, TJ, Mallory, Halfborn, and, of course, the talking Sword of Summer Sumarbrander, who answers to the name of Jack.

The best part about Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead is that every character has his or her spotlight moment in the book. As usual the trope of Riordan’s books is about friendship and team work. In The Ship of the Dead, all these backstories get a bow-on-top wrapping up in the climax, when Magnus faces off Loki.

If there is the best, there also has to be the worst. Which is that The Ship of the Dead doesn’t make sense if read as a standalone. The previous two books, The Sword of Summer and the Hammer of Thor lay the foundation for The Ship of Dead to be enjoyed in totality.

While Magnus and his friends have to sail across the oceans of Midgard (home of the humans), Jotunheim and (home of the giants), and Niflheim (world of ice, fog and mist) to get to Loki, Magnus also has the extra job of defeating the trickster god in a verbal duel of insults called flyting.

The Ship of the Dead is an apt goodbye-for-now for these loveable characters. Riordan continues to be the proponent of diversity and acceptance. Sam — Samirah-al-Abbas — is a faithful Muslim who observes the 40 days of fasting while preparing for war and her half-sibling Alex is gender queer. This latest instalment is all about friendship: How true friendships are not about perfection, but how it rises above differences to be supportive of each other till the end, even if it is the end of the world.

There is enough acceptance and love in Riordan’s world that it might be a good idea to read it just to learn empathy and tolerance, and being human.

As Magnus Chase tells Loki: “No matter what form you take, you are still you – alone, scorned, bitter, faithless. Your insults are hollow and desperate. You don’t stand a chance against us, because you don’t have an us.”

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