The Age of Odin - James Lovegrove
Cover art copyright of Solaris.
Before we start though, a brief word of warning. The book contains a large amount of profanity. This is because the main character is an ex-army soldier, and the book is told from his point of view.
Godpunk has so far referred to a curious blend of mythology and the post-modern reality (here meaning a future not too far removed from our current existence). The Age of Odin for example, sets the saga of Ragnarök as a shadow to our own world's machinations, ending with a dramatic climax that shapes the course of the otherwise ignorant world. On the other end of the spectrum though, Age of Ra and Age of Aztec (to name two of Lovegrove's other works) reveal worlds where the mythology is a fact of life, where the world is ruled by the Egyptian and Aztec gods in turn, hence Godpunk.
Ragnarök is part of Viking mythology and depicts a series of future events that will culminate in the effective destruction of life as we know it and restart the world afresh. It's detailed in several poems and can be treated, if you will, as an event similar to the judgement day of the bible. However, unlike judgement day (which concerns mankind alone), Ragnarök involves the Norse (Norweigian) gods in a climatic battle that ends with the death of most of the Viking pantheon and the nine-worlds in which they live. In Viking mythology, Earth (called Midgard) is just one part of nine worlds that are the totality of creation.
After stopping to fill up on gas and get a small bite to eat, Gideon finds himself too tired to drive a car and does the one thing he would not do under any other circumstance. He trusts Abortion to drive for him while he rests. Naturally, placing the trainwreck that is Abortion results in a carwreck, the two of them now finding themselves effectively lost in the cold, both injured from the crash.
They struggle onwards only to find themselves being hunted by wolves, their strength flagging. Before long, they are surrounded, an easy meal. They haven't managed to reach Asgard Hall, their destination. They are convinced that this is the end for them. Abortion saves Gideon from death before the wolves get him, leaving the former ex-army corporal soon to face his maker. However, help comes in the form of three snowmobiles with armed riders who scare off the pack and take him, the sole survivor away, away to Asgard Hall.
We then get treated to some of Gideon's backstory in the form of a flashback. We experience his family relationship (or lack thereof) because of his lifestyle. Gideon was a corporal in the British army, frequently overseas, most recently in Afghanistan. His wife became estranged as time went on, growing distant with him as did his son who really only saw his father very rarely, and more often as a mere signature on a card than in the flesh.
He comes to in a hospital ward inside Asgard Hall, under the attention of a kind older lady named Frigga. This is an anglicisation of Frigg, the Norse goddess who was wife to Odin (The "All-Father") and queen of Asgard. As might be expected of a British ex-army NCO, he laughs at the name and is unaware of the events in which he is now immersed. During his recovery, he meets Odin, who he considers eccentric and discovers the Asgard Hall has neither access to the internet nor telephones. A little more exposition is revealed as Gideon reads through the autobiography of President Lois Keener, the current president of the USA. However, as we get a glimpse into the mind of President Keener, we also begin to realise that the world may share many similar names with ours, but is by no means to be considered a mirror copy.
Following his recovery, Gideon is taken around Asgard Hall and shown Yggdrasil, the world-tree, where Odin attempts to convince Gideon as to the reality by showing him the spot where Odin had once hung himself, nailed to the tree. This is based on the origin story for the runic alphabet in Norwegian mythology. Gideon then finds himself introduced to Thor, the God of Thunder and sees for himself the army of men assembled by Odin. For what reasons he cannot fathom yet because Gideon cannot bring himself to believe what Odin is telling him. Following a brawl with Thor, despite a bum leg, Gideon is introduced to the story's love interest, Freya (the Norse goddess associated with gold, beauty, fertility and war). However, Freya has no time for him, despite his desires to the contrary.
Gideon has a brief encounter with Heimdall before going on to make friends amongst the more 'normal' personages around Asgard Hall. We are treated to a light bit of comic relief in the form of Braggi's poems before he finds himself in a brief encounter with a still very icy (pun intended) Freya as well as a strange squirrel named Ratatosk. Freya indicates that Ratatosk is a caretaker for Yggdrasil. Gideon, naturally still under the impression that the people in Asgard Hall are about as loopy as can get, decides to make an escape from the Hall on an automobile only to discover the hard way about the truth of the matter. How? By being captured by Frost Giants who aren't at all happy with his current affiliations.
His escapades only worsen as Gideon finds himself battling for his life in a duel versus a Frost Giant, however, he is rescued by a party of Einherjar, the humans battling alongside Freya. What follows is an effective opening of Gideon's eyes as he then goes along with Thor and Freya to capture trolls. However, it is here that the story begins to explain something of the world around him as Odin reveals that faith sustains them and the legends surrounding them. Odin is not the god of myth, because few people believe in him or his story enough for him to be that god anymore, and that has meant adapting to the times. We see this in the form of Sleipnir, the eight legged horse with wings that is now a Chinook helicopter by the same name. Gideon talks with Odin about God (as in the Christian concept of God) only to be told by Odin that Odin has neither met God (if he exists) nor would he believe in him (if he didn't).
It is here and later during Gideon's meeting with the Norns that the most interesting aspects of the book come to the fore, the concept of free-will and self-determination versus fate. The Norns are a trio of soothsaying sisters, for the past, present and future. Like the Greek Moirai, they state rather boldly that there is no real thing as free-will, not when they have weaved every man's fate. Although of course, the loom is every so out of date by now. Bluray DVD players ought to do the trick. However, for heroes, the future is but a buzz of static, as even the Norns, who Odin fears, cannot predict what they will do with their allotted time.
The last half of the book concerns itself with Ragnarök itself, the revelation that the true enemy of all mankind is President Lois Keener, though in truth it is Loki in the guise of President Keener. Loki, brother of Thor, is the trickster god thrown out of Asgard for his crime in arranging the death of one of his brothers (Balder). This puts a rather dark understanding of President Keener's claim that the light of God filled her one day and directed her to take control of the United States of America. She is, to all intents and purposes, a right wing religious zealot who has turned the United States into a warmongering country in her two terms of Presidency. It is when Gideon puts Lois Keener together and realises it is a play on 'Loki' that the proverbial boot finally drops.
What comes next is a tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the original Ragnarök tale. The US army attacks, unveiling giant mechanised suits, labelled Jotun (the frost giants of Viking myth) and Surt (the Norse fire demon, King of Muspelheim, the World of Fire). Following their first battle against Loki's forces, Gideon has a brief encounter with Hel, the goddess of death who has sided with her father (Loki). In desparate need of allies, the humans fighting for Odin start collecting trolls and even attempt to undergo negotiations with the Frost Giants at Utgard, the capital of Jotunheim (one of the nine worlds). To the amazement of all, he successfully manages to convince the Frost Giants that there would be a valid reason to form an alliance, unfortunately, it goes badly wrong, leaving Gideon and his squad to fight their way out. The event leaves Gideon with the suspicion that there is a traitor amongst them.
The beginning of Ragnarök is timed with the arrival of Lois Keener to the United Kingdom. She appears before the bifrost bridge (the rainbow bridge) and taunts the gods, as is rather typical of most villains. It is during this period that Gideon discovers that the gods only die at their appointed time, revealing that they are the gods of the Vikings but also gods of myth, summed up by Bragi with the phrase: "They think us, therefore we are."
From this point on is a series of battles, crafted around the lore of Ragnarök. The first major event being the arrival of Fenrir in the form of an incredibly large battle tank. Fenris of the Viking myth is a giant wolf, so large and strong that the only way the Aesir (the Viking gods) could stop him was through a trick that bound him with a ribbon. Though one of the lesser gods, Tyr, lost his arm to the wolf, leaving his sword impaled inside Fenrir's maw. Loki has produced a man-made equivalent to take Fenrir's place in the ballad. It is here that Odin dies, deep in the belly of the world-wolf.
The next major battle is the arrival of Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent. It comes in the form of a massive tunneling vehicle that begins racing towards Asgard Hall. The Jormungand of legend had breath that could kill and it is only fitting that the man-made equivalent has a tremendously powerful sonic weapon. However, the serpent is stopped by Sleipnir crashing down on its back, the helicopter leaving the other vehicle immobilised but not disarmed. Jormungand proceeds to fire its weapon at Asgard Hall, damaging the keep with such intensity that Thor charges the serpent, using his hammer to attack it. As in the legend, Thor dies after defeating Jormungand, silencing its deadly weapon.
On the heels of the death of the All-Father and his son, comes the arrival of the Frost Giants who have decided to throw their lot in with Loki (who is himself a Frost Giant). Their attacks are repelled on two separate occasions, though a mistaken attempt by some of the defenders to desert was greeted with a show of no quarter from the Frost Giants. Of Gideon's original squad of humans, only Cy and 'Backdoor.' The third attack has already signalled the beginning of the end for the Aesir and their mortal allies and before long the defenders are fighting a desparate battle within the Hall itself. Can their fate get any worse? The arrival of Nagelfar, Loki's last war machine, makes certain the defenders know it can get worse. The original Nagelfar was a ship covered entirely with finger and toe nails (like fish scales) and crewed by the dead, while the modern equivalent comes in the form of a gigantic airship armed to the teeth. The arrival of Nagelfar sees the deaths of Vali, Vidar and Tyr, the last remaining sons of Odin.
The remaining survivors find themselves trussed up in the shadow of Nagelfar, awaiting whatever penalty Loki in the guise of President Lois Keener will devise. Gideon manages to bargain with the trickster god for the freedom of the mortals with him but the price that Loki asks for is that Gideon will not make any attempt to escape and volunteer himself for the punishment Loki has in mind for him. Loki had been waiting to make a spectacle out of Gideon ever since their first meeting early in the book at Bifrost bridge where Gideon had mistakenly thought he could speed up events by shooting Loki (that was the point mentioned early where Odin stated that the gods had to die as they had been foretold by mankind to die).
With Gideon left alone in a hastily adopted cell aboard the Nagelfar he asks a last request from Loki. Two actually. The first is a brief visit from Freya with whom he had fallen in love for, and vise versa, though the stern goddess had never admitted it. The second was for the ability to punish the traitor he suspected in their ranks. Gideon had come to believe by this point that it was 'Backdoor' who had betrayed them all.
The next day, Gideon is brought out where the remaining survivors have been gathered along with the Frost Giants and a few of the US mercenary forces to witness his demise. A large and elaborate construction has been raised for his benefit. As Gideon is brought up onto the stage, the Norns appear, indicating that this is the end of Ragnarök and the future of the nine worlds was unclear. Loki, true to form, allows Gideon to have Backdoor executed in the same manner he would be and then drops the bomb that Backdoor wasn't the saboteur. The trickster revels in Gideon's anguish over sentencing an innocent man to death before revealing the true saboteur, none other than Cy. Cy begins to taunt Gideon up on the stage, revealing that Cy had been Loki's agent since the beginning. As this is going on though, Gideon spots movement from the Hall's ruined tops, a figure with a rifle is readying a shot. That figure is Heimdall, wounded by Jormungand and otherwise ignored by their enemies at the time. Loki is assasinated after Gideon buys Heimdall time by questioning Cy about his motives and goals. In the confusion, Cy escapes aboard the Nagelfar, followed closely by Gideon as the Aesir and mortals rise up to take advantage of the situation.
Gideon finds his way to the Nagelfar's bridge and murders the command crew, only to realise he had inadvertently sunk the massive airship as it required at least two men to operate. As the ship begins to crash down, aimed at Yggdrasil, the world tree, Cy and Gideon fight their final showdown. Aboard the vessel, Gideon finally defeats Cy just as the Nagelfar crashes into Yggdrasil.
He wakes to the sound of Abortion's voice coaxing him, telling him a chopper would come to rescue them from the car crash site. Recovering in hospital, Gideon is left wondering if he'd just made up the entire event in his mind, confirmed in part by the way some of the gods had made leading comments (such as Odin's reference that every death was an apocalypse on a personal scale, for every man suffers their own private Ragnarök). At least until two final things occur. The first being a news report that President Lois Keener had suffered a major stroke in the Oval Office, her cause of death being described as 'catastrophic intracranial haemorrhage' and the appearance of a squirrel that salutes him before disappearing.
And it is here that the story ends.