Mythology is something that has fascinated us for countless generations. They are stories of beings so powerful that their actions shaped the world. Some of the myths involve the creation of the world. Some involve those beings that humans are meant to pray to in order to reap protection, good crops, fortune, success in battle, and countless other things. In modern times, though, mythology has become something else: a story to explore, one that reflects the world in a unique way. Matt Larkin’s The Apples of Idunn, Book One in the Gods of the Ragnarok Era does just that, but in a way that stands out amongst retellings of mythologies.
Of the mythologies out there, Norse mythology is one of the more difficult to retell in a way that modern society understands because it is incredibly complex and the stories do not always make sense. Nor, often times, do they end well. Matt Larkin, though, manages to capture the essence of Nordic folklore and put it into a form that is both compelling and true to the original.
The Apples of Idunn explores the life that Odin Borrson led before he was a god. Odin finds himself jarl of his people after his father was slain by a frost giant. He is consumed by rage and seeks revenge, but there are some unusual happenings that might very well get in his way. He is supported by his blood brother Loki, his other brothers, a loyal follower of his father, and a goddess. Odin must not only face down the legends of his own people, he must work to unite them under his kingship or they will surely perish under the encroaching mists.
The way that this story is put together is really quite impressive. There are often details that are left out in mythologies—or there are details in multiple stories that conflict widely with other accounts—and this can make a coherent story difficult to craft. This book is expertly put together. The details are thorough and interesting and they mesh together in a way that makes perfect sense. This is done primarily through worldbuilding. The world is familiar, as one would expect from a retelling of familiar mythologies, but it is distinctly crafted. This is a society and a civilisation that is not the one we belong to in modern times. The people hold different things to be valuable. Honour and pride and righteousness do not look the same. Nor does justice. However, when taken in the context in which they are provided, these values fit perfectly within this society. It makes sense. It never confuses the reader. And the resulting tale is correspondingly epic.
For characters that exist in a world that is apart in both time and scope to our own, the characters are still relatable. You feel the pain that Odin feels at the loss of his father. The other characters have motives and desires that we can understand, even if they may act on them in a different manner. Except for Loki; he remains mysterious throughout the book. Honestly, though, this is a wonderful manifestation of him and the mystery only heightens the story.
All the characters are crafted in such a way, though, that they are still interesting to read. I enjoyed journeying through their struggles. I enjoyed watching them grow. Especially, I enjoyed Odin’s progression throughout the novel. He grows tremendously despite events that are conspiring against him. He does sometimes act like an idiot before he things situations through, but he does all he can to remedy his wrongs. Tyr, though, I do not care for as much. He is a loyal follower and supporter of Odin, but he seems to be doing all he can to perform his duty without necessarily believing in his duty or himself. I do not know if this is a characterisation issue or if this is purely one of Tyr’s struggles.
As far as the actual prose is concerned, I would say that this is one of the best written novels I have seen in a while. The prose is well-paced. It flows exceptionally well from one sentence and thought to another. And—my favourite—there are descriptions and dialogue that remind one of slang, only from a world that fits with the retelling of Norse mythology. These instances lend this story such verisimilitude that I got lost in the story for a while.
Overall, I would have to say that The Apples of Idunn is an extremely well crafted book. The story is interesting and draws you in. The characters are entertaining to read and still relateable. There are instances of action and of fear and of magic. All of this, combined with the fact that this story retells Norse mythology in a way that is both familiar and gives a greater understanding, means that this book most definitely is on my list for Best Books for this year.
If you are interested in grimdark fantasy, well-written books, even in reading something that fixes what the Marvel comics, ah, got wrong, this is the book for you. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Marvel comics. There’s a whole lot of very cool special effects. Interesting ideas. But this book is better.)