The short: 4/5 ✦. A solidly fun and uniquely diverse sequel in Riordan’s action-packed Norse mythology trilogy.
I actually liked The Hammer of Thor a bit better than The Sword of Summer (not the actual weapons, but the books). For the first one, we had to be introduced into this world, which may have had the same flavor as Heroes of Olympus and Kane Chronicles but was still fundamentally different. (I gotta say, Norse gods are more difficult to pronounce but way less confusing than Egyptian ones.) There was a goodly amount of exposition (well done, of course) and new characters to learn about, etc. But now, in the sequel, we just jump right into the action.
Everything great about Sword of Summer is here in Hammer of Thor: quests, prophecy, bizarre gods, friends, and diversity, including the series’s first gender-fluid, transgender character, Alex Fierro. There’s also a frank discussion about keeping one’s faith in the midst of dealing with mythological beings that aren’t (in this world) quite so mythological. Riordan isn’t one to shy away from complex topics because he knows kids. There’s no good “protecting” them from “difficult subjects,” least of all in a book. This is classified as middle-grade fiction, though obviously enjoyed from all over the age spectrum, but as such, there is a bit more “explaining” going on. In the case of Alex, I’ve seen criticism from both sides, and even those who like the character’s addition seem to think the discussion Magnus has with Alex about what it means to be gender fluid is too on the nose, too anvilicious. Let me be clear: I am cis and hetero and cannot speak to this specific subject with any authority. So I merely put forth the reminder that this book is intended for 10-12 year olds. Its fun, wacky, silly aspects are a testament to that, as well as carefully explaining new ideas and concepts. Sad to say, this book may be a child’s first introduction to people who are transgender, and I personally like that Riordan takes the time to sensitively show the reader who the character of Alex is and more importantly, show that Alex is a person, worthy of respect and consideration because of and in no relation to Alex’s gender identity. The same goes for Sam, who is Muslim, and she and Magnus talk about prayer and religion. It all works because, duh, Riordan knows how to write great, realistic characters (who happen to have godly powers), and also because that’s just how his books are, anyway. There’s always time-outs taken to tell a myth or talk about a prophecy or contemplate why monsters why. To me, these “explanations” are just part of the charm of Riordan’s writing and this particular series.
OKAY, but also overall, Hammer of Thor is great! It’s one of the those rare middle-of-a-trilogy books that actually doesn’t feel too much like it. The plot has its own internal beginning, middle, and end, even though it obviously leaves it open for what the next, final book is going to be about. Our heroes win a few battles, they lose others, they further develop and mature (not just the teens either; Hearthstone goes through some serious self reflection), everyone gets even sassier, etc. etc. I really quite like Magnus, because he’s definitely not Percy or Jason or Carter. He’s sensitive and contemplative and is totally open for communication, my favorite character trait! Sam tries to keep a few secrets, but it kinda backfires on her, and Magnus is there to help her and encourage her to not try to carry the weight of the world alone. He knows he needs his friends and so appreciates them with his whole sunshine soul. And of course, there’s all the usual pop-culture references (Heimdall likes selfies, y’all) and blending of the Norse world with our modern one. I mean, c’mon, if you’re reading this, you probably know and like Riordan books, anyway.
Besides the fact of being inclusive and diverse in a respectful way, The Hammer of Thor is well plotted, with great characters and ridiculous adventures, and just plain fun and funny. Highly recommended, and here’s to The Ship of the Dead!
Header image: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan, published October 4th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion