The 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 …
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.
Strict adherence to formula aside (and if I had a serious problem with that sort of thing, I wouldn’t have gotten past Book 2 of the Harry Potter series), I’m really looking forward to this one. I can’t wait to see how things go for Magnus and his friends!
I know what you mean. Depending on the book’s appeal to me, I often am more than willing to give the author a pass on using familiar formulas and tropes. I’m pretty sure you’ll really like this one, Jana!