by Greg Van Eekhout
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Review by Drew Bittner
Spectra Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553592139
Date: 19 May 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It's been winter for three years, and time is running out for the Norse gods. A desperate plan to identify the human descendants of the Asgardians--NorseCODE--is leading drafted Valkyrie like Kathy "Mist" Castillo and her brutish partner Grimnir to potential recruits for Ragnarok.
Problem is, too many of these recruits are terrified mundanes who cannot fight... and when they fail the single test of the Valkyrie (dying courageously), their souls go to Helheim, realm of the unworthy dead.
That's where Mist's sister Lilly has ended up. But now Mist has a plan. If she can find the errant godling Hermod, she has a fighting chance to break into Helheim and save her sister. That means going against the Norse gods and their many allies--but it might also mean tipping the balance in Asgard's favor. Of course, Hermod may have other plans...
Such is the set up of Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout. A clever and engaging take on modern myth and high adventure, the story follows Mist and her struggle to find and redeem her sister, even as the End Times loom. While Mist and Hermod are the heroes, the story also follows Hugin and Munin (aka Thought and Memory, Odin's pet ravens) as they survey the worsening conditions in the world. Acting almost like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they comment on nearly everything and provide a comic counterpoint to what is often a grim endeavor.
The story also picks up what's happening in Helheim, with Lilly Castillo and the blind god Hod (who accidentally killed Balder with a sprig of mistletoe) considering their options even in this prison afterlife. They become crucial to the master plan Mist and Hermod come to devise, when they realize that to save themselves, they had better win Ragnarok and fast.
Van Eekhout has a nice flair for characterization and setting, establishing human and Asgardian characters side by side, well balanced and feeling quite authentic. Hermod reflects the melancholy of being a failed and obscure son of Odin, while Mist's role as a Valkyrie takes an interesting turn once she decides to "choose" a soul who's already taken the path into Helheim. The intensity of her quest helps ignite a dormant need to be a hero in Hermod, even as he discovers problems of his own making loose in the world.
The world as drawn by van Eekhout is clearly on the verge of ending. Somewhat like Stephen King's Salem's Lot, the places seen are empty or dwindling into emptiness, with the violent weather a dire harbinger of worse to come. By the end, though, much like Ragnarok itself, there appear seeds of hope.
Fans of modern myth and action-packed urban fantasy are likely to enjoy this tale. Van Eekhout has carved out a singular niche for himself, with (hopefully) more to come.