Review: Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout
I had the unique experience of reading Norse Code on the train to and from San Diego where Greg read from and signed it, but I’ll write about that in more detail later. For now, before or after you read this review, you can read segments and learn more about it:
- You can read the prologue and the first page of multiple chapters over at RandomHouse.com
- Tor.com posted Chapter One
- Suvudu posted both Chapter Two and Chapter 3
- Greg talks about Norse Code over at Scalzi’s Big Idea … a lively discussion ensues.
- If you buy Norse Code from Mysterious Galaxy, I’m pretty sure you can request a signed copy.
- And last but not least, you can read Wolves till the World Goes Down over at Ideomancer, which is a much earlier short story that Greg wrote that tackles some of the same content, in a similar manner.
- If you checked out all of that and still want to hear my take, read on.
I like my genres healthily jumbled. The setting of Norse Code ranges from near future to the far reaches of the nine worlds described in Norse mythology, with significant time spent in the land of the dead. It’s a sarcastic high fantasy one moment, a bloody urban fantasy the next, science fiction in spots, and I even detect some mystery notes. The entire pantheon of Norse gods each get some page time, and exactly how much is prophesied about each one influences their outlook on the end of days. Those that know they’re going to survive the universal “reboot” seem to be helping the process along. Those that know how they will die have the comfort that nothing else will kill them. Not knowing his future leaves Hermod, our protagonist god, free to affect pretty much everything that hasn’t been prophesied.
Prognosticating in Norse Code has parallels to quantum mechanics. Until you observe something, anything can happen, but as soon as you start looking at the future, the waveform collapses and fate is set in stone. This leads very early on to an undercurrent of dread and futility, but Hermod and Mist LOVE our world of coffee and friendly dogs. Their optimism and confidence sustain them through encounters with zombies, wolves, giants, and gods with other priorities. In every situation, no matter how dire, the story is told with an impossible mixture of gravity and levity. And in the simple math of Norse mythology the thing made with the most impossiblities wins.
I found plenty to geek out about in Norse Code, but one of my favorites is right at the beginning. When reading to review, I take note of things like tense and viewpoint. Usually it’s straightforward to tell if a writer is using first person or third person and it affects how much we know about the characters that get point of view versus ones that don’t. Most of Norse Code is told in 3rd person with the viewpoint shifting from Hermod to Mist to sundry other characters. The neat thing that Greg does is that he names our third person narrator. It’s Hugin, one of the pair of Odin’s raven spies. In the prologue and in later passages we shift to Hugin’s point of view and are thus in 1st person, instead of 3rd person. This would make the book stand out in my mind, even if the rest of it wasn’t spectacular.
Norse Code succeeds marvelously, both as an exploration of Norse mythology ( at least I FEEL like I learned a lot ) and as a showcase for Greg’s unique writing style, effortlessly and efficiently weaving the lyrically fantastic and a gritty reality. Greg achieved much filling in the cracks of standard Norse mythology (it helps that between the prose Edda and the poetic Edda there are numerous contradictions). The state that the world is left in at the end of Norse Code will allow any follow up to be even more uniquely Greg’s creation.