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Book Review: Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout

# Genre: Paranormal Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
# Mass Market Paperback: 292 pages
# Publisher: Spectra
# Publication Date: May 19, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0553592130
# ISBN-13: 978-0553592139
# Author Website: Writing and Snacks

Though Greg van Eekhout’s debut novel Norse Code will inevitably draw comparison to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Eekhout has a styling more apropos to the paranormal fantasy of Lilith St. Crow or Jennifer Rardin.

The story is built on ancient Norse mythology and the eschatology of Ragnaraok. Eekhout twist the ancient story of a final battle between the Queen of Hel and Odin the All-father and brings it in to the 21st century. The tale begins with a Kathy Castillo, a recently murdered MBA student who finds herself recruited to become a Valkyrie name Mist. But all Mist really wants to do is save her sister, who died at the same time as she, from being trapped in Hel’s realm. To do this, she must recruit the lesser-known god, Hermod the only known been to ever enter Hel and return alive. But what Hermod and Mist don’t know is that the very act of salvation they mean to commit may be the beginning of the end for the world as we know it.

Greg van Eekhout’s mashup of Norse mythology and an urban setting, while not original in its basis, is new and different in it spin. There were many times in this fast-paced tale that Eekhout took unexpected turnings in the plot, twisting the Norse mythology in on itself. Now, Norse mythology was never the most cohesive of mythologies, having nowhere new the logical connections of Egyptian or even Greek/Roman. This causes Eekhout’s story to have some plotting “holes” that make his story not quite jive. For instance, Sleipnir, a child of Loki, fights his own father, though the reasons why are never made clear. And too, the plot line involving Baldur is never fully completed, though it is possible a sequel may deal with that particular story.

As I said, the story is fast-paced. At times this can seem almost frenetic, never allowing the reader to process the implications of one event before another rears its ugly head. So frantic pacing can cover a multitude of writing sins, such as the occasionally incomplete plot threads or world building questions aforementioned. To, for such a short novel, there are simply too may elements. There is NorseCODE, the Norse pantheon, the back-story, Hermod and Mist’s relationship, Mist and her sister’s relationship, and the constant fighting of a mass of bad guys. It is too much to develop beyond simple acknowledgement in 292 pages. Eekhout’s story has not depth due to so much going on. But on the positive side, though sometimes frantic, the action is never dull, repetitive nor boring.

The characters too, though pretty much one motivation Sally’s, are interesting enough to keep the interest. Mist is entirely driven by her desire to save her sister, and this does not allow much room for characterization. Hermod too, is focused on staying out of politics, and though he acts nobly, is still something of a frightened chicken. There is not a whole lot more to the character of these folks, and while Eekhout makes them interesting on the basis of their skills, abilities, even backgrounds, he does not develop them much beyond their primary motivations.

Overall, I felt that while this story was good escapism, it is not any great piece of literature. Comparable to Gaiman in terms of content only in terms of content, Norse Code does not have its literary chops. It is a good step away from the traditional urban or paranormal fantasy that focuses so fixedly on vampires and werewolves and shows that paranormal fantasy is capable of being more than the Twilights of this world. For that attempt Greg van Eekhout is to be commended. Too, his surprising twist of plots are interesting to read, especially given any prior knowledge of the Norse mythology. However, due to unfinished plot lines, simple characterization and questionable world building, I find the novel to be entertaining but incomplete.