The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan children's fantasy book reviewsThe Ship of the Dead by Rick RiordanThe Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

When Naglfar ― a ship made out of the fingernails and toenails of the dead, eek! ― sets sail, carrying hordes of giants and zombies warriors to fight the gods of Asgard, Ragnarok and a world-ending battle aren’t far behind. Ragnarok can’t be entirely avoided (unfortunately, it’s an inevitable prophecy), but perhaps it can be delayed for a while longer?

As The Ship of the Dead (2017), the third and final book in Rick Riordan‘s MAGNUS CHASE AND THE GODS OF ASGARD series, begins, Loki has escaped from his imprisonment by the gods and is getting the dreaded ship Naglfar ready to sail against the gods, triggering Ragnarok. Right now the ship is docked between Niflheim (the world of ice and fog) and Jotunheim (the home of the giants), prepared to set sail as soon as Midsummer causes the ice on the sea to melt enough. Loki loves global warming, by the way.

Clearly Magnus Chase and his friends need to stop him somehow! But first Magnus needs to get some training in battling sea monsters from Percy Jackson, then search his dead uncle’s mansion for a mysterious clue, fight a wolf for its possession, set sail with his einherjar friends on a banana-yellow Viking warship through perilous seas to find and stop Loki, avoid being eaten by the sea giant Aegir and his nine bloodthirsty daughters, take a break to go to Alfheim (home of the elves) to fight a malicious dragon and try to get the magical whetstone of Bolverk from his hoard, then …

Rick Riordan's Norse Mythology (3 Book Series) Kindle Edition by Rick Riordan


You know what? It’s just another quest for a Riordan demigod hero, and the fun is in going along for the ride. As is typical for Riordan’s YA books, the journey is rather charmingly complex and random, a literary Rube Goldberg chain reaction machine, where one event triggers another, which in turn trips off another, and so on.

But it’s an enjoyable ride, even if the trip is convoluted and you don’t really remember the specifics of most of these episodic adventures after you’re done reading the book. And sometimes seemingly significant events like, say, developing the ability to understand the speech of animals, are raised and then dropped with little or no explanation or resolution. But Magnus Chase cracks lots of jokes along the way, some of which are actually quite amusing. The chapter titles are always witty; my favorites this time around were “I Inherit a Dead Wolf and Some Underwear,” followed by “But Wait. Act Now, and You Get a Second Wolf Free!”

The cast of The Ship of the Dead is diversity personified, including once-homeless Magnus; Alex, who frequently shifts back and forth between identifying as male and female; devout Muslim Samirah, who fasts for the month of Ramadan notwithstanding all their troubles and conflicts; former black slave and Civil War soldier Thomas Jefferson (T.J.) Jr.; and more. With all this diversity, there’s a refreshing emphasis on friendship and loyalty. It culminates in the book’s climactic scene, with an unexpected twist befitting this entire series’ theme of unity in diversity.

Parents of younger readers may want to be aware that the gender-fluid Alex, introduced in the second book, The Hammer of Thor, becomes romantically involved with another character in this book (kisses only). Regardless of your stance on this hot topic, it’s a good one to discuss with your kids.

Riordan finds creative ways to weave in many actual legends and characters from Norse mythology. I was particularly impressed when I did a little online sleuthing regarding Bolverk, and found that an ancient legend concerning Bolverk, a whetstone, a battle with slaves and the mead of poetry had been neatly woven into the text of The Ship of the Dead. That Naglfar ship though. *shudders*

The Ship of the Dead wraps up Magnus Chase’s initial story arc, though I’d expect that some of these characters will make an appearance again in later Riordan books. Near the end there’s a teaser involving Percy Jackson and his girlfriend Annabeth, presumably pointing to the next book set in Riordan’s multi-mythological world.

Published October 3, 2017. Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin’s chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn’t naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus faces his most dangerous trial yet. His cousin, Annabeth, recruits her boyfriend, Percy Jackson, to give Magnus some pointers, but will his training be enough? Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, complete with a host of giants and zombies, to sail against the Asgardian gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?


  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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