Exploring Another Culture with Norse Mythology

Vikings are very popular right now with a number of exhibits, fiction books, and TV shows out about this popular but not well known culture. The people seemed to have simple lives and yet are larger-than life. Plus, most folks love powerful warriors… as long as they aren’t facing them in battle.

For instance, I enjoy Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, which includes at least one book of his character’s antics in the Viking mythos world, and the History Channel show, Vikings. I love cultures with strong female characters like Lagratha from this show. Their use of shield maidens provides more proof that a woman can be a valuable ally in battle, or a vicious enemy.

So when I saw Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, I snapped it up, wanting to know more about this distant and unusual culture. In the introduction, Gaiman explains that he wants the text to read like a person storytelling across the fire during long winter nights. In that regard, he succeeds admirably in that the work has a clear narrator feeling.

The book reads like the Bible, starting with a type of Genesis and proceeding through time to the end of days. This is not bad though. The book is a history of the gods’ creation and lives. One can find some lessons in these tales but mostly they are just grand stories. Unlike the Bible, the book lacks a lot of boring “begats” passages or high-handed morality tales. In short, many of the tales seem more like frat boys playing pranks or having masculinity measuring contests.

From these stories, the reader gets the feeling that the Norse gods generally like common folks. They like getting gifts, gathering crops, feasting, fornicating, fighting and making general mischief. The tone of the book is simple and direct, without a lot of descriptive scenes or glorifying of characters, instead staying focused in the storyteller style.

In reading it, I understand the events in the Vikings show a bit better. The stories seem to glorify craftiness and guile. Loki, who I’ve always heard was a trickster, is less mischievous and much more of a selfish, rude, self-centered ass, increasingly so towards the end. Anyone who is a fan of the History Channel show will see similarities between the character Floki, and Ragnar’s punishment on him, and Loki’s actions and final punishment. As bad as it is, the reader is left with the feeling in part that Loki brought it upon himself.

Odin seems single minded in searching for wisdom but few of the stories go into him actually using it. Gaiman mentions that many of the stories were lost, which may be why Odin is not as well represented. Many of the stories don’t include Odin at all. Thor is featured often but come comes across as a rather dumb blowhard rather than any great warrior. The tales also doesn’t really show the gods interacting with or even caring much about human affairs, unlike Greek and Roman stories. Humans are simply occupiers of the Earth and little more. The gods were much more concerned with each other and the various giants, dwarves, and elves.

For the most part, it was a fun and easy read, that left me desiring more stories. Unfortunately, Neil Gaiman won’t be writing any sequels. So much information on this proud race is now lost. However, I feel like I now have a deeper respect for the richness of the Norse culture and can understand some of the references more clearly. That alone made the book well worth its purchase price.

Trailer Park Fae Brings Disease into Fairydom

Although Lilith Saintcrow is a leader in the urban fantasy genre, writing under several names, Trailer Park Fae was my first experience with her work. I enjoyed reading this book, which is unusual because I’m not partial to fairy stories. I was entranced immediately by the quality of the writing. It engulfed me with sensory details, making it easy for me to lose myself in our world and the different fairy kingdoms. The prose flows beautifully and I felt immediately engaged with the complex characters.

Trailer FaeSaintcrow’s fantasy realm overlays and connects easily with the humans’ grittier reality. However, the people are oblivious to the sidhe in their ranks. The fae use them as tools or victims always to the detriment or death of the humans. This makes the fae mostly horrible, an idea that might not be popular with some readers. Whether the monster is a space alien, demon spawn, or Summer Queen, we like to think that humanity could defeat or at least break even at some point. This novel does not harbor those illusions. The two protagonists are half human at least, which is the only reason why they survive their interactions with the other worlders.

The story dives into three plots interweaving three different characters. First, Jeremiah Gallow, half-fae and ex-guard of the Summer Palace, is fighting off suicidal depression after the death of his human wife. He has turned his back on the sidhe, wanting only to be left alone. Unfortunately, he drops into the middle of a complex conspiracy dealing with a plague on the sidhe and the fight between the kingdoms to control the cure.

Next enters Robin Ragged, an unwilling messenger of the Summer Queen. Robin becomes the key to controlling the plague that is decimating Unwinter’s realm. Gallow meets her by accident when she tries to outrun the King’s henchmen. She resembles Gallow’s wife, which sets off a protectiveness and curiosity in him. This sets up emotional tension between the two characters and provides the impetus for both to work together.

The third character is Puck Goodfellow, a free fae unattached to any court and seeking to make trouble in both. He stands outside most of the action, serving as the role of conductor to orchestrating the chaos. His hidden agenda and desires are not revealed until toward the end of the novel.

Although I enjoyed the lovely narrative, the descriptions sometimes ran on too long, obscuring meaning rather than clarifying a vision. Some of the phrasing and words were unfamiliar to me as well, which I put down to the fact that I don’t know the genre. Usually the meaning of certain unusual words can be picked up through the text, but that was not the case here. A glossary would have helped.

The ending, although surprising, still felt incomplete. The story of Goodfellow resolves but the others are left open for the obvious sequel. I’m a fan of series but feel that each book should stand alone. More resolution for the primary characters would have been nice.

In conclusion, if you like evil fairy-oriented urban fantasy, you’ll enjoy this book. However, readers new to the genre might get a little lost with this novel being their first choice.