A pentacle of urban fantasy reviews (III of IV)
The back of the book suggests the story is about the newly created Valkyrie named Mist, but this is not actually the case — it is more about the Norse deity Hermod, and Mist is mostly along for the ride. Further, I cannot say I enjoyed the author’s (extremely unsubtle) re-hashing of the Norse mythos. As an example, he stated the Vanir homeland was razed to the sterile dirt by the Aesir — a viciousness they most certainly were not guilty of. He also stated, quite incorrectly, the old chestnut about only deceased warriors belonging to Odin. Despite his assertions, however, it is Freyja who leads the Valkyrior, the Choosers of the Slain, and she has first choice amongst those the Valkyrior select — Odin is given the remains. In fact, the author completely disregarded all the goddesses, but for his chosen villainesses, and one other — who is almost literally nothing more than a helpful disembodied voice.
There is a trope I’ve noticed in my native culture, regarding matriarchal/matrifocal cultures, which I am most heartily sick of. It basically depicts matriarchies as either evil (like the D&D Drow) and needing to be destroyed for their own good — or confused and possibly primitive (such as the matriarchies depicted in the Star Trek series) and needing to be given gently amused paternal correction for their own good. Consequently I was not impressed by how Frigg, a hearth goddess, was twisted into something she never was, in order to be our villain for the story: a cruelly amoral Life-and-Death goddess viewed through the horrified eyes of someone terrified of death.
The hero, Hermod, does his best to save Earth despite being a startlingly feckless individual, and despite the combined weight of unchangeable prophecy and unremitting natural disasters. The travels of the various folks we follow — both good guys and bad guys — wander through several of the nine worlds as Hermod struggles to accomplish his goal. Unfortunately, by the end of the story I didn’t really care. While we’re introduced to many, many people, none of them really show any depth or character development, or are particularly compelling.
This was particularly disappointing to me, since I love mythology in general, and Norse mythology in particular. Reading the various mythic stories, looking for the subtle and evocative archetypes and subtexts, trying to put myself into the mindset of a different time: these are intellectual pursuits I find both enjoyable and rewarding. I know of few better or more fun ways to attempt understanding of a long-gone culture than through its stories, especially since (just like our own modern culture) most religious and deific figures are glorified amalgams of their culture’s ideals. Further, it’s been my experience that many of these stories still speak to us today, giving us powerful archetypes and environmental concepts with which to examine our personalities, our lives, and our native cultures. What more pleasant way to learn from the lessons of ancient history?
That’s a best case scenario, of course, which is one of the reasons I was so disappointed by Norse Code. To me, what we have left of the Norse mythos — even after Christianity did its best to entirely obliterate the stories — offers us an opportunity to engage in exactly the fascinating type of thinking I mention above. Some of the Norse mythic concepts, I feel, are still extremely pertinent. For example, we seem to have internalized the Christian concepts of evil and good so utterly that any disagreement with Us (invariably “good,” of course) brands the disagreeing Them as our enemy — invariably “evil” and needing to be destroyed for the good of all. With that unfortunate mindset, it seems to me a new way of looking at both disagreement and thoughtful compromise would seem both useful, and perhaps critically necessary.
The Norse mythic concept of chaos and order as both being necessary and influential in the world — constantly interpenetrating and cross-pollinating in a state of mutual tension and support — would seem an excellent concept to borrow for today’s world. The Norse saw it as perfectly natural to have the destabilizing, chaotic nature of untamed wilderness balanced with the organized and orderly efforts of humans to create culture — and vice versa. Without the wilderness to draw from, after all, there would be nothing to craft with. Further, over time the works of humanity will crumble and decay back into nature, just as the seasons cycle: Spring’s birth and Summer’s growth shift inexorably into Autumn’s harvest and Winter’s sleep — and finally back around again to Spring.
That’s just one example, of course; those who read my Firestarters have already seen my views on our crying need for a beneficial Divine Feminine in our poor, self-consumptive culture. I mention this because I felt Norse Code could have been so much more, considering the richness of the mythology it draws from. To pull only those elements that support and justify our current societal status quo seems both disappointing and short-sighted to me, allowing us no opportunity to learn valuable new concepts from another culture’s worldview.
I suppose I should have realized this by the book’s title, though. The pun off the phrase “Morse code” seems sadly apropos, considering Morse code is a now-outdated means of communication which takes all the richness of sense-based communication — then woodenly flattens it into nothing more than extremely simplified auditory symbols for writing. Similarly, the sensuous feast of conceptual and archetypal richness that is the Norse mythos has been stripped of its evocative beauty for von Eekhout’s story — reduced into nothing more than yet another sadly tattered justification for modern US culture’s dysfunctional-gender-roles status quo.