Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Age of Odin

The last Pantheonic saga of James Lovegrove, The Age of Odin. If they say Ra was spiritual then what would you call Odin - I'd say on the level of faith and spiritual matter Age of Odin ranks higher.

Here is the summary:

Gideon Dixon was a good solider but bad at everything else. Now the British Army doesn't want him any more. So when he hears about the Valhalla Project it seems like a dream come true. They're recruiting fromer service personnel for execellent pay, no questions asked, to take part in unspecified combat operations. The last thing Gideon expects is to finding himself fighting alongside the gods of the ancient Norse pantheon. The world is in the grip of one of the worst winters it has ever known, and Ragnarok-the fabled final conflict of the Sagas-is looming.

To put it simply The Age of Odin may well be the most different of the three than you might think. At the heart of it all is the one old lore fashioned or modeled as new. It's a modern adaptation of Ragnarok, the fabled apocalypse of the Norse. The main character finds himself coming to terms with the idea that Gods are real, and he is destined to aid them. The "upgrades" in rolls of the likes of Loki, and several other big players in Ragnarok were an interesting and original take, the book itself kept me interested from the first page where I was asking "Hows this washed up old soldier supposed to be a hero" to the end where I was left with a big grin on my face. 

Gideon Coxall, pensioned-off soldier, is having hard time fitting into the civilian world. His wife has left him, he can't see his son, he drinks too much and, much to his own disgust, the only job he can find involves him selling refurbished printer toners. When the chance comes up to do a little (probably dodgy) mercenary work, Gideon pounced. Ostensibly, he needs the cash. But deep inside, he knows that he belongs in combat.

The story kicks off with a car crash. Gideon skids off the road on his way to meet his mysterious employer and, when the dust (or the snow) settles, he finds himself in an armoured encampment filled with lunatics pretending to be Norse gods. Odin is a crabby old man, Thor is a drunken brute and Freya is an Amazonian dream-girl. Gideon makes some token efforts to escape, but a few close encounters with frost giants and trolls make a believer of him.

Unfortunately for Gideon, he's signed up to a noble cause on the eve of Ragnarok: the ancient Viking myth of Armageddon. If first half of the book involves Gideon finding his place alongside the friendly (if feisty) Nordic gods, the second half is nigh-on continuous battle. For those familiar with Norse mythology, the sequence of events is a verse by verse, tongue in cheek translation: generally swapping enormous RoboTech-style tanks for mythical creatures. Why bother housing and feeding the actual Midgard Serpeant when you can kitbash together a burrowing Destructicon with a sonic cannon on its nose?

Gid has a hard time believing the big man in charge of the Valhalla project is actually the Allfather of Norse myth, Odin. Odin is preparing for the fated final battle, and as Gid joins Odin's forces, he brawls with and fights alongside Thor, becomes enamored with Freya, is healed by Odin's wife, Frigga, and learns of the treacherous deeds of Loki.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel is Lovegrove's ability to end each chapter on a hook that begs the next chapter. Lovegrove's narrative makes no apologies for the over-the-top concept of the story, he takes it as seriously as possible, and tells a story that is gripping. In totality, Lovegrove has written a book that is difficult to put down. In some senses, the novel reads as a very high-octane masculine fantasy, but again, Lovegrove's storytelling ability helps to gloss over any shortcomings. The novel is told in the first person and works very well to convey the protagonist's thoughts and, of course, how Gid sees the Norse gods as real. Gid is not well-versed in Norse mythology so it takes a bit for him to fully guess at the gravity of his situation. Lovegrove injects humor into the story, mostly through Gid's snarky comments.

Here again we see a few similarity with Ra - its all about faith and belief in a higher power - whoever that may be the various pantheons of the world or if you choose to believe in the one power from which everything arises. The various patheons may very well be real - all the old stories must have come from somewhere. But yes it is your belief that makes them real. The Age of Odin is a fiercely humanist text. The gods and monsters may have the advantage of height (and big hammers), but humans have true authority. The mythological creatures are stuck in their paths - they are controlled by fate and, ultimately, the power of storytelling. By contrast, we remain the authors of both our own destinies and those of our collectively appointed deities. Lovegrove is vigorously carving out a godpunk subgenre - rebellious underdog humans battling an outmoded belief system. Guns help a bit, but the real weapon is free will. 

I would like to mention though probably the best quotation from a book I have read in a long time - and on the topic of God no less. Gid asks Odin what the capital-G God is like. To which Odin replies, "...I don't believe in Him, and if He does exist, I don't like Him. His type of gods aren't gods who echo how mortals behave. They're gods who are held up as example of perfection to be emulated. They're not gods of the people. They're remote and inaccessible, they demand blind, unthinking obedience from their followers. They're dictators. We Aesir and Vanir, by contrast, are mirrors. Other gods rule. We reflect and magnify. We are you, only more so. We share your flaws and foibles. We are as humanlike as we are divine, and I think we are all the better for that. And not to forget the Braggi's poems - a perfect comic relief.

Absolutely amazing work here, and a must read for any fan of Norse Myth, Heathenism and the like. All the three - Age of Ra, Zeus and Odin would make great movies or games if initiative be taken.

Genre :      Fiction, Mythology, Sci-fi Military 

Publisher: Solaris

Rate:              4/5 (Really liked it)


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