July 28, 2014

The Blackwell Pages: Loki's Wolves (Book 1), Odin's Ravens (Book 2)

Twinning ancient mythology with a contemporary novel has become more popular in the last few years, but doing it well is a craft, and I can only say that there are few authors whose knowledge and writing can flawlessly weave time periods together.  However, we do have several authors whose take on the myths are always far greater than any I have ever read before.  One is Lesley Livingston, whose two young adult series, Wondrous Strange and Starling, are richer in characters and mythological detail than anything I have ever read. And now Canadian author Kelley Armstrong and American YA author Melissa Marr have collaborated to bring a similar distinction to a middle-grade series called The Blackwell Pages.

Loki's Wolves
by K. L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr
Little Brown and Company
364 pp.
Ages 10-14

Odin's Ravens
by K. L. Armstrong and  M. A. Marr
Little Brown and Company
352 pp.
Ages 10-14 
May, 2014

In Blackwell, South Dakota, Matt Thorsen isn't just the son of the sheriff and the grandson of the mayor. He, and all the Thorsens, are the descendants of the Norse god, Thor. And the amulet of Thor's Hammer that he wears on a silver pendant around his neck is a key link to that heritage.  But if the heat of his amulet and the power Matt unleashes from Thor's Hammer against trouble-maker Fen Brekke, a Loki descendant, when the kid and his cousin Laurie attempt to steal the shield off the Viking longship in town aren't enough of an indication that something is up, then hearing his grandfather proclaim Matt as the closest embodiment of Thor solidifies that concern for the thirteen-year-old.  How could he be the champion who would fight the Midgard Serpent and save the world from Ragnarök? Sadly, eavesdropping on his grandfather and the other Elders, Matt learns that his grandfather expects him, instead, to be defeated and to fail to stop Ragnarök.

In Loki's Wolves, with advice from some unlikely sources and using knowledge of the Norse myths, Matt tries to assemble the band of the living embodiments of other Norse Gods, starting with Fen and Laurie, Loki's descendants, and retrieve key tools such as Mjölnir, Thor's Hammer, and the shield, to ultimately fight the Serpent. Battling the Raiders, the shape-shifting wulfenkind, outwitting and escaping from a variety of trolls, eluding the police who've tagged Matt as a runaway, convincing descendants of their roles, and just trying to survive have all become the kids' mandates.  Oh, and learning whom to trust.

In Odin's Ravens, Matt, Fen and Laurie continue to fight monsters, but inside as well as outside of the underworld of Hel, sure that if they can rescue Baldwin, then everything will change and Ragnarök cannot happen. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as simple as it would seem.  With the involvement of Helen, ruler of Hel and aunt to Laurie and Fen, as well as the Valkyries, some goats, lots of zombie-like Vikings and all types of animals, both mythological and real, more and more layers of action and humour get added to the story.  But as the title indicates, it is Odin, or rather his champion Owen, and his acrobatic Beserkers who almost steal the story.  Not only is Owen and his group the saviours in key struggles, the all-seeing Owen knows much more than he can say, complicating already difficult relationships.

Whew! I feel like I've told you too much but perhaps not enough.  It's so hard with books such as Loki's Wolves and Odin's Ravens which have subplots hidden in other subplots, and they are all important to the main plot of Matt trying to stop the end of the world. I can tell you that the characters are so magnificent, well-developed and complicated that you'll go back and forth trying to decide for whom you'll cheer or you hope gets thwacked by a troll.  And the humour!  If you've read CanLit for LittleCanadians over the years, you'll know that humour, and great writing, trump all else for me.  In Loki's Wolves and Odin's Ravens, I suspect the kids often use humour to hide their fears and tension.
"I'll do what you tell me, because while saving the world and all would be great, I'm not keen on the dying part, either.  I'd like to live long enough to get out of middle school." (Loki's Wolves, pg. 91)
And this, Matt realized, was what their world had come to. A week ago, his biggest worry was failing his science fair project. Now he was taking comfort in the thought that he faced only one fifty-foot-tall, fire-breathing giant. (Odin's Ravens, pg. 1-2) 
The Blackwell Pages is not your typical myth-based novel series. Thank goodness.  It's better.

1 comment: