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Norse Code
Greg van Eekhout
Bantam Spectra, 292 pages

Norse Code
Greg van Eekhout
Greg van Eekhout is a science fiction and fantasy writer with around two-dozen short story publications. He currently lives in San Diego, where he obsesses about martial arts classes, coffee, Moleskine notebooks, and giant squid. Norse Code is his first novel.

Greg van Eekhout Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'What happens now?" Mist asked.

Hermod shrugged. "Magic is a little like pulling the pin on a grenade and then stuffing it down your pants to see what happens."

The premise for Norse Code is that Ragnarok is almost upon us, and an army is being forcibly recruited to fight for Asgard. Selection is limited to those who carry a trace of Odin's blood. The main problem for the recruits is that in order to join the army they have to die first. This is where Mist, and her supernatural Einherjar minder, Grimnir, come in. Mist used to be Kathy Castillo, until she was murdered and returned to life as a Valkyrie. Now she works for NorseCODE, where her job is to find recruits to join the Einherjar; Asgard's warrior elite who are being readied for the final battle. For those chosen it's a lose-lose situation. Die and enter Valhalla to fight for Odin, or die and spend the rest of eternity as a captive in the shattered realm of Helheim. Mist is none too happy with her lot, and soon rebels, developing an on-the-fly plan to rescue her murdered sister from Helheim. Such are the loosely knit themes that form the basis of author Greg van Eekhout's plot.

So what else is in the mix? There's Hod, a blind brother of Thor, who is trying to escape incarceration in Helheim, and Hermod, another of Thor's brothers, who has spent much of his existence on Midgard. Parts of the story are told by Munin and Hugin, the ravens of Odin, who fly through the worlds, applying reason and thought to their observations. I couldn't help but think of them as Heckle and Jeckle. Toss in Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse, dwarves that make weapons capable of cutting seams between dimensions, Naglfar, a giant longboat crewed by the warriors of the dead, and a big friendly dog called Winston. Greg van Eekhout is not short of props, and all are used then reused in this action-packed end of the world romp. Fans of the Marvel comics version of Thor may lap this up, as will readers who enjoy tales of tough women dispensing violence in the name of justice. The more discerning among Greg van Eekhout's potential audience might not be quite so keen. There are a host of problems, including all of the big guns of Norse mythology; Odin, Thor, Hel and Loki, being reduced to cameo rolls. If this is supposed to be Ragnarok through the eyes of the little guy -- or perhaps little god -- then those gods better be able to rivet attention to the page. Occasionally they do, but all too often I felt like I was reading the tale of the also-rans. Smaller sub-plots slide in and out, reappearing in clumsy fashion, as if the author knew he had to slam them in somewhere. A typical example being the inclusion of two wayward lesser gods, sons of Thor, who are involved in a grand conspiracy to hasten Ragnarok. I found them so lacking in character, I cannot even remember their names. Then there was the grand architect behind the conspiracy, who when revealed, promptly vanishes! Were pages lost in the edit, or never there?

Norse mythology is an idea that has bags of potential, and I'm not against mixing it up with the modern world. What I am thoroughly bored with is the Americanization of these themes, where ageless demi-gods are portrayed as hobos. These people are supposed to be the basis of Scandinavian mythology, yet they look, speak and act as if they grew up in California. Instead of depth and gravitas, Norse Code presented a light-weight parody. The literary equivalent of the difference between instant coffee and gourmet coffee beans. Perhaps that is all Greg van Eekhout intended, and if so he has achieved his aim. Norse Code is still a fun novel, if your expectations don't fly too high. But for me, the plot meandered like a drunk driver, and my overall impression was that I'd read a reimagining of enduring myths that did not reimagine enough.

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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