BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following an oilfield fire sparked by a Giant out of Norse Mythology, Ted Callan finds himself forged into a weapon and pawn caught between the scheming Norse mythos survivors of Ragnarok.
PROS: Zelazny-esque dive into post-Ragnarok mythology from a blue collar perspective.
CONS: Typical first novel writing weaknesses.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid entry into the Modern Mythology subgenre of contemporary fantasy.
Druids living in Arizona? Egyptian Gods hanging out in funeral parlors in a town on the Mississippi River? A summer camp on Long Island for children of deities? Post-Singularity beings putting on a live action version of the Iliad? Authors seem to enjoy bringing mythology into our present or even into our future. It’s practically a sub-genre of Urban Fantasy. (A recent Mind Meld on SF Signal explored the phenomenon.)
Ted Callan, protagonist of Chadwick Ginther’s debut novel Thunder Road, wishes he wasn’t dropped into a modern myth story, though. Seeing a Fire Giant in its pyrotechnic fury, and the trauma of subsequently seeing it destroy his oilfield, his job, and his marriage, is bad enough. Getting turned into a mythological weapon and caught between mythological Ragnarok survivor factions is even worse. Between Fates, Loki, and Dwarves, it’s not at all clear who Callan can trust, if anyone. Or even just how to get back his normal life.
Readers sympathize with Ted’s plight because the story is written from his point of view, which gives the reading audience a good entry point into the mythological world that Ted himself is unwillingly being pulled into. Having a relatively ordinary, blue-collar guy as a protagonist was absolutely refreshing. It grounds the novel and at the same time, as Ted gets used to the changes in and around himself, so too does the audience. The worldbuilding emerges organically, especially as Ted starts to meet various mythological characters.
The book’s approach to mythology was nicely done. Many novels and stories that borrow from Norse Mythology use Ragnarok as a threat, or as a future calamity that is destined to happen, at best always on the horizon, if not being actively rushed toward. In Thunder Road, we see the world after Ragnarok has happened and devastated the Norse Pantheon. There are survivors of course, some surprising ones, and at least one that, given his nature and his instinct for survival, should surprise absolutely no one. And while he, Loki, is as about as far as you can get from the Avengers interpretation, this is a very good (and fun) version of the trickster God. Ginther uses some rather underutilized abilities and aspects of Loki in Thunder Road, all to good effect. The setting of the novel is also extremely well done. The author uses the Canadian setting, urban and back-country, to his advantage, bringing Manitoba and all of its aspects to vivid life. There are also location-based bits of humor as well, such as what is really lurking in Lake Winnipeg.
Thunder Road is a first novel, though, and does suffer from some of the common problems of first novels. There are some significant pacing problems where we are told quotidian things to a level of detail that often drags down the story. The author has a tendency to over-explain things that really could have been hand-waved or glossed over to get to the meat of the story. When the novel gets into conflict (both interpersonal and more physical ones) this problem abates, but the material between can be a slog to get through.
Overall, though, the novel is strong, and has been shortlisted as a nominee for the 2013 Prix Aurora Award for best Canadian novel. Sure, Modern Myth books are as common these days as lies off of Loki’s tongue. Thunder Road manages to distinguish itself and demand attention. I am extremely curious where Ginther goes with Callan’s wyrd, now that the origin story, as it were, is out of the way.