Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road is an urban fantasy complete with Norse gods, battles with giants and trolls and dwarves and sea creatures, magic gone awry (and occasionally aright), while all the characters are in hot pursuit of the severed head of Mimir — reciter of secret knowledge and ancient wisdom. Did I mention the talking tattoos Huginn and Muninn? Sound crazy? Well, there’s plenty more where that come from, so buckle up.
Our main character, Ted, is a bit of a loner, a cynical, down-on-his-luck ex-football-player jock looking to start over after surviving a broken marriage and an explosion at a plant in the oil sands of Alberta. He’s shaken by the horrific accident and what he sees stepping out of the fire there — a gigantic creature that looks like the devil himself. So he hops in his beloved old 1968 GTO and heads off for a new start in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
When Ted picks up a hitchhiker, a beautiful young woman named Tilda, his luck takes a turn. Whether it’s for better or worse is an intriguing question that Ted and the reader will grapple with throughout the novel. Tilda reads his fortune in her runes and tells him, ominously, that he will either “live the life of a hero or a prince,” or “come to an abrupt and ugly end.” Ted has no intention of taking her seriously, but he certainly should, as we find out soon enough.
Later that night, Ted is subdued by dwarves who tattoo his entire body with Norse imagery. He’s surprised to find himself alive the next morning after being shackled and cut and inked, after the horrible pain and suffering he endured. Only then does he begin to realize the kind of magic that the dwarves etched upon his hide; he’s been given the power of Thor the Thunder God and the mark of the Nine Worlds, a mystical realm (a place that’s both here in our world and not here at the same time) where Norse mythology is alive and well.
At first Ted just wants to rid himself of the magic that the dwarves have forced upon him and get his old life back. But he soon discovers that this won’t be a simple task. Tilda, as it turns out, comes from a family of fortune tellers who seem to know quite a bit more about what happened to him and why. They meet with Ted and convince him that if he can capture the much sought-after head of Mimir, the severed noggin of Odin’s once sage counselor, he may win his freedom. But at what cost?
In the great tradition of epic fantasy, Chadwick gives his readers a true quest novel. Ted sets out on the road with a grumbly band of malcontents, including the beautiful Tilda and his untrustworthy brother Loki (Thor’s brother, actually), the trickster, the God of Lies in Norse mythology. Tilda and Loki loathe each other, Ted is eternally grumpy, but off they all go, evading cops, brawling with giants, wrestling with magic, in search of the severed head that has the power to end the world.
The story is set in modern-day Manitoba and other rural parts of Canada — rocky, woodsy places with sprawling lakes where mythological creatures roam unseen by human eyes. Not the sorts of places you’d expect to find Norse gods fighting out their ancient grudges and settling old scores, but this is part of what makes the book so interesting and fun. Magic is right here in front of us lowly humans; we just don’t know it.
This book is a must read for fans of Norse mythology (and the Thor comics of my youth), but even if you have no foundation in either, you’ll pick up all you need to know along the way. Chadwick makes it look easy, expertly parsing out the mythology so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed.
Ted is a kind of modern-day Conan the Barbarian, a reluctant hero with anger management issues and an overzealous sex drive, who is forced time and again to pursue the course of lesser evil in hopes of stumbling across a way out of his predicament. As one bad thing leads to another, we get the feeling that Ted can’t possibly win. And yet we don’t want to believe it.
If all this sounds like a rip-roaring good time, well, heck, yes, it is. The author has a real instinct for rough-and-tumble action, gritty details, and unexpected plot twists. Reading this book is a lot like riding a rollercoaster. Once you hop on, you have no choice but enjoy the ride. Highly recommended.
Of further interest…
Visit Chadwick Ginther online.
Thunder Road was shortlisted for Prix Aurora Award for Best Novel.
Zen thought for April 2013…
“There should be a balance between material and spiritual progress, a balance achieved through the principles based on love and compassion. Love and compassion are the essence of all religion. All religions can learn from each other; the ultimate goal of all religion is to produce better human beings. Better human beings would be more tolerant, more compassionate, and less selfish.” — the Dalai Lama
Chadwick Ginther signing Thunder Road