Sleipnir by Linda Evans
Right, so yesterday I was playing catchup with the YvtW Afterlife arc. I had saved the storyline up to where we'd just entered Hades, which means that I lost all of what happened in Hades, and most of what happened in Helheim, the OMGU, and Egypt. Le sigh.
I'd finished writing up the scene with the shades in Hades and our encounter with Tiresias, and just had us arrive in Helheim, when I decided to do a little (re)research on the descriptions of the place and the inhabitants.
Somehow, a search for the hellhound Garm and the ferry...er...hag Moghud (or however you spell it), led me to a page in the middle of a Baen Free Library novel. I skimmed through it, in case there was something useful, and noticed that the chapter seemed to be about some mortal guy trying to work his way physically into Helheim. The book is Sleipnir, by Linda Evans.
Well, I thought: "Hey, cool, the main character's sorta doing what we're doing. Maybe I'll read this novel and see if I can pick up some ideas!"
But first, I figure I'd do an overall review of the book.
I liked it. It's not my favorite myth/fantasy/whatever book, but it certainly held my attention for the entirety of it. I liked how they portrayed many of the characters and creatures in the story, as well as some of the interesting plot twists. Though, for some reason, I kept expecting one particular twist to the storyline, which never came through. I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or not by that...
Basic storyline: Our main character, Randy Barnes, is an U.S. soldier stationed in Europe (Germany?), guarding a nuclear weapons site. One of his colleagues and best buddies introduces him to the old Norse religion. Sometime later, he sees the giant form of Odin's steed Sleipnir carry away some dead soul, which he later learns to be his buddy's, who had just died in an car crash.
Upon doing some research, Randy realizes that Odin's not suppose to get accident victims, who typically go to Hela. So if Odin is apparently breaking that rule, then what other rules could he be breaking? For instance, maybe prematurely ending the lives of warriors before their time just so he can bulk up on his Ragnarok army? Through a twisted string of reasoning, paranoia, (il)logic, and rampant emotions, Randy sets off determined to go and wring Odin's neck (basically).
He's given an apparently magic blade by his dead buddy's grandmother. And he figures that the only way for him to get to Asgard (without dying himself) would be to catch a ride on Sleipnir, and to catch Sleipnir, he plans to go down into Helheim/Niflheim where the flying steed's father, Loki, is chained up. Yes, even the main character admits that he's got a snowball's chance in Hell to carry his mad plan through, but I don't think he was entirely sane by that point. Either that or it's a case of having nothing to lose.
So he goes spelunking in Garm's Cave and with some help from the magic black (Sly Biter), he makes it eventually into Helheim. He manages to talk his way out of trouble with Hela, rush through an audience with the Norns, then survive his encounter with Loki, and grab a flight on Sleipnir when the steed was visiting. He gets dumped in Asgard, meets Odin (this is the part that disappoints me - Odin is pretty much as the main character had believed him, despite my doubts, and the "Allfather" in the book is a singularly unimpressive individual). So he challenges and defeats Odin, in the process setting Fenris free, who eats Odin, thereby turning the entire idea of predestination and Ragnarock and whatever that the Norse cosmology is based upon, on its ear.
In the end, we learn from the Norns that they'd been expecting this (though not planning it). Apparently for a while now, they'd stopped setting/enforcing the rules of Fate, period, in the hopes that a wild card/loose canon would appear with the sufficient drive (and lack of common sense) to create a different, better resolution for Ragnarock. And Randy Barnes turned out to be it. Now he'll just have to lead the forces of Asgard and etc. to win against Surt and the opposing forces of Giants come Ragnarock...
The main thing I found annoying about the story was that the main character kept on harping on the moral/ethical deficiencies of the Norse mindset. The whole free will shpiel. Wholesome American values and so on. Well, it's not that I don't *agree* with Randy, in terms of morality and ethics. But the way it was presented feels uncomfortably like the stereotypical ugly American tourist going off to some other culture and getting all loudmouthed by how barbarian the people are because they don't abide by nice Americe cultural mores. That, and also there were heavy shades of MarySue/GaryStu-ism on the main character.
Of course, the things I liked about the story, ironically, were somewhat for similar reasons. I liked the dialogue between Randy and the various deities, such as Hela and the Norns. I liked the resourcefulness of the character, which wasn't overdone, so that the progression of his journey to Asgard didn't seem too easy, or unrealistic, or fraught with plot devices on his behalf. I especially liked how the Norns were portrayed, and Fenris wolf was such a cute wolfy. ^_- Also, the ending of the book definitely left me hoping for a sequel.
Overall, I'd recommend the book as a good read for anyone interested in Norse mythology.
One of the ideas I liked from the book was that Balder could be a helpful presence to our heros in Helheim. Of course, I have no idea if the MU version of the Norse pantheon has Balder in Hel... ossian? Do you know?