Stop. Look closely. Look beyond the typically stylish urban fantasy cover (the one with the nicely built young woman holding her weapon of choice with an air of defiant competence). Look beyond the title that’s both serious and punny. Inside, through pages inked with the shadows of ravens, you’ll watch the long-foretold cataclysm of Ragnarok as it rolls in a relentless wave from the dry, gray plains of Hel to… the dry, black asphalt of a California parking lot. And if you’re partial to Norse mythology or urban tales driven by fascinating characters and laser-crisp writing, you’ll enjoy it. Verily, by Thor’s hammer!
The product description/back cover summary nicely provides the premise for this novel, the debut of the gifted Greg van Eekhout. Not only has he forged ancient myth and modern culture into a cool, sleek alloy, he’s done so with drama, conspiracy, humor, and (I never thought I’d say this about an urban fantasy novel with a nubile warrior-maiden on the cover) even a few touches of artistic inspiration and genius, including the use of Odin’s raven Hugin (Thought) as an occasional narrator and a blink-quick invocation of the American Gothic painting in an all-out battle, to pick two.
Norse Code is simply an impressive debut. I can only guess it was printed solely as a mass-market paperback because it is a debut and because readers without passing familiarity with Norse mythology may find themselves a little numb with mythic-culture shock. Still, it has all of the aforementioned virtues, as well as gods who enjoy long walks on the beach and Mountain Dew, plus one of the coolest swords ever. Though I don’t know if it’s powerful or meaningful enough for a second reading, I highly recommend it for a first reading (and purchase) by fans of Norse mythology or well-written urban fantasy. Four bright stars that won’t easily be devoured by wolves anytime soon.
The NorseCode genome project seemed to be a global corporate undertaking to gather DNA samples in hopes of tracing down Odin’s descendants. But college student Kathy Castillo finds out the truth the hard way when she is murdered and resurrected as the valkyrie, Mist. It turns out that NorseCode is actually the Old Gods’ front for recruiting soldiers to fight in the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok.
Greg Van Eekhout’s debut novel Norse Code was my first foray into urban fantasy, so I’m admittedly out-of-my-element. I did find Norse Code to be entertaining enough, but it really wasn’t my cup-of-tea.
Along with the characters being a little hokie, there seemed to be a few holes in the story. I’d think using a cover like “searching for Odin’s descents” would raise questions, rather than allow secrecy. A few times the blind god Hod didn’t seem very blind (but, then again, I guess he was a god). I never figured out how to be sure that someone was really and truly dead and, for lack of a better word, unresurrectable.
Also I was rather disappointed in Mist. I realize she hadn’t been at it very long, but when I read in the blurb that she was a valkyrie, I was hoping to read about a bad-ass angel-winged babe. In fact, that was the major downer for me. I’m no expert in Norse mythology, but what I think of (and what I like about it) is the whole warrior mentality thing. Instead, for me, Norse Code just came across as a little too campy.
However, I do appreciate what van Eekout was getting at. Despite that these are all-powerful Gods — well, most of them anyway — who’ve been around long before anything else, the nitty-gritty of it is that they’re just like us (or maybe we’re just like them). I commend him for his story’s perspective. And even though I wasn’t particularly crazy over it, Norse Code really is an impressive first novel.