Tuesday, 1 February 2011

‘The Age of Odin’ – James Lovegrove (Solaris)

To be honest, I’ve never paid too much attention to bestseller lists and what’s on them; as is well known here, my methods of choosing that next book to read tend to range from ‘ooh pretty cover!’ to ‘can’t be bothered to get up off the sofa, what’s the nearest book’... Until a couple of days ago that is. I received an email from the people at Solaris who were understandably very proud of the fact that James Lovegrove’s ‘The Age of Odin’ had hit the New York Times Bestseller Lists at number thirty three. I don’t know how high you have to get up the list before it’s seen as a big deal but coming thirty third isn’t bad is it?
I’d steered clear of Lovegrove’s ‘The Age of Zeus’ as I hadn’t read the book before it but the email assured me that all of these books were stand alone and could be read as such. Seeing as I had a copy of ‘The Age of Odin’ on the reading pile, there didn’t seem to be any excuses left not to finally give a bona fide New York Times bestseller a go. It wasn’t a bad read but...

Gideon Coxall was a good soldier until a roadside bomb left him deaf in one ear and a metal plate in his head; now he’s good for nothing except dead end jobs and being an example of the kind of absentee father that the Child Support Agency makes its living on. That’s Gideon’s life until the day he hears of a mysterious agency looking to take on retired military personnel for unspecified combat operation; the pay is excellent so Gideon’s in. The Valhalla Project is far more than a mercenary unit though. The world is in the grip of the Fimbul Winter and that can only mean that Ragnarok is not far away at all... Gideon’s new employers are none other than the Viking gods of myth which can only mean that Gideon will be fighting frost giants, trolls and... the American army?

‘The Age of Odin’ is one of those funny books where you have a lot of fun reading it but when you come back to it, a couple of days later, you find that you cannot remember a lot about it. It’s very much the ‘book equivalent’ of watching one of the Transformers movies, loads of sound and action but maybe not quite so much in the way of story...

That’s not to say it’s not a fun read for the commute because that’s exactly where I read it and I had a great deal of fun doing so. And maybe I’m being a little unfair with the whole ‘not so much in the way of story’ thing. If your subject matter is Norse gods then you can’t do much else with them apart from have them go up against frost giants for a big old scrap. Lovegrove does this with great zeal and a keen sense of the dramatic, taking time to ponder how Norse legend might play out in the twenty first century and giving us his well worked take on this. You can’t deny the power and fury of the resulting conflict and it makes for gripping reading at the time. By keeping the plot true to Norse myth though, Lovegrove’s work becomes too episodic and repetitive (monster turns up, monster is defeated, wait for the next monster to arrive, monster turns up...) and this means you get lulled into a comfortable rhythm when what you’re really after is a shock to the system. I also found that if you know a little bit about Norse legends then Lovegrove’s faithfulness in this regard does rob the plot of some much needed tension. You might not know what will happen to Gideon (although you can work it out) but you know exactly what’s going to happen to all of the other main players, pretty much before you get too far into the book.
There are a couple of decent twists, during the course of the plot, but Lovegrove’s subject matter proves to be too much of a constraint for anything huge to be able to come out of left field and smack you right between the eyes...

At the same time though, ‘The Age of Odin’ is an undeniably entertaining read; very much a book for those of us who decided that our childhood games would involve taking on the might of the Norse pantheon armed with machine guns and grenades. (For the record, I never did this but I really wish I had now...) Gideon Coxall is unlikeable enough a character to make you want to stick around and see if his attempts to redeem himself come to fruition; he also has the balls to throw himself into any number of situations that make for literally explosive reading.
On this score, ‘The Age of Odin’ is a read where the pages absolutely fly by; you can’t help but be carried along by what is obviously a successful combination of ‘myth and munitions’.

I can totally see why ‘The Age of Odin’ made it onto the New York Times Bestseller’s List; in terms of entertainment value alone it certainly deserves to be up there and I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw it on the big screen in a few years from now.
It’s a shame then that the story itself didn’t quite match the pyrotechnics on display. I wasn’t surprised that this was the case (given the constraints mentioned) but I still felt a little flat after finishing the book...

Seven out of Ten

6 comments:

nicksharps13 said...

I'm not sure I agree with your description of Gideon as unlikable, he was a very flawed but sympathetic character. The best parts of the book were the ones that dove deeper into his psyche and past. The other thing Lovegrove did extremely well was to display the interaction between men of military background. By all means you should check out Lovegrove's previous novel, Age of Zeus.

Graeme Flory said...

I think he was perhaps a little too flawed for me although I'll definitely agree with you about the exploration of his psyche and past (I liked how that was done via the Norns...)
I'd probably also agree with you about the interactions between military men but it wasn't something that really jumped out at me as a big positive.

If I've still got my copy, maybe I'll give 'Age of Zeus' a go...

Elfy said...

I've got the 1st 2 (The Age of Ra and The Age of Zeus, I bought The Age of Zeus before I knew it was preceded by The Age of Ra) in the TBR pile, hopefully I'll get around to them sometime this year. Sigh.

Arsyn said...

I've been a bit hesitant for some time about reading this book. It appears to have some decent potential but there always seems to be that nagging voice that convinces me to put the book back down and opt for something else. I could use a fun read though, so thanks for convincing me!

henrym15 said...

The Age of Ra was a terrible book in my opinion and i know i couldnt do any better.The idea behind it was brilliant but it just seemed that lovegrove got bored of writing it and just needed to wrap it up quickly with one hell of an anticlimatic ending.I proceeded read the age of zues and to my suprise I thought it was a brilliant read so good infact that i read it twice such an improvement on the first installment im looking forward to ODIN.

Christoph Weber said...

Part Two of the pantheon trilogy fell off a little bit, but Lovegrove found yet another twist for part three, Age of Odin, and it makes for a very good story.