An author’s note before we begin:
This is a social justice blog so why am I posting a book review about Norse myths, right? Well, I’m not going to lie to you, this is copy/pasted directly from my Goodreads but a lot of what I discuss and what’s featured in this review pertains to queer and Muslim representation. Shocking, right? I know, I’m super unpredictable.
This book did something super daring. It’s a children’s book! Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson books, introduced a gender-fluid character as one of the main protagonists! So yeah, I’m going to gush a little bit. And I think it deserves to be here on this blog.
The review is probably going to make little sense if you haven’t read the book and there’s some spoilers sprinkles throughout but if you’d like to see me geek out over tasteful handling of sensitive issues using fictional characters, please enjoy.
SO please bear with me as I attempt to write a coherent review and NOT scream about Alex Fierro.
I mean I’m definitely going to scream about Alex Fierro but there’s other stuff I want to talk about first.
Not a lot but definitely some stuff that’s not just me screaming about Alex Fierro.
LET’S DIVE RIGHT IN!
The world expansion in this book was just great. We had a magnificent set up in the first book – a lot of great establishing characters and setting and concepts – and when you add to a series like that, it can get to be a lot very quickly. This book was great because it took a lot of what was covered in the first book and just expanded on it. We had a taste of Hearthstone’s past in the last book but giving it more context in this one was great for world development with the elves and character development with Hearth. MY POOR BABY ELF I LOVE HIM!
Did I wish there was a little more development with Hearth and Blitz? Yes, but that’s just my Blitztone shipping heart. There were many cute hurt/comfort moments with them, a lot of worrying about each other and singular focus about each others’ safety and nothing but each others’ safety, and Blitz literally said “I love this elf” at one point, but we didn’t get a confirmation of a romantic relationship. WHY! IT’S RIGHT THERE! Provincetown, Rick? Did you not want me to pick up on that? IT’S THE ULTIMATE GAY/LESBIAN VACATION DESTINATION!
Part of me is choosing to believe that most of the lack of confirmation is Magnus’s own obliviousness and there will be a huge ‘duh’ moment later on when he confronts his feelings about Alex but WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT YET I HAVE MORE TO SAY!
What was really beautiful in this book, character development wise, was learning more about Samirah and her religion and how that coincides with her life as a Valkyrie. I am not Muslim and admittedly don’t know that much about the religion other than the abstract so I’m kind of going with Rick in faith on this one but I appreciated the attentiveness and unapologeticness about how religious Sam was and how much she believed in it and how that was not a detriment or distraction from everything else she was. She was brave and clever and kind and loyal and a valkyrie and a hijabi and engaged to a boy who loves her and she loves back and she was all of these at the same time! That’s sensational!
Also, side note, can we talk about how HAPPY I am that we can have two main characters, a boy and a girl, where the girl likes boys and the boy likes girls (?), and the girl is in a prior relationship and there is no love triangle. Seriously, it shouldn’t be this hard to have a story like this all the time. Girl is in love with a guy she’s going to marry, makes a new guy friend, and there’s NO DRAMA! They GET ALONG! And Amir is even more present in this story and there’s no romantic tension between the three of them at all! I am OVER THE MOON about this. This story has enough going on, adding romantic tension in the form of a love triangle would have been too much and way unnecessary (@ Legend of Korra first two seasons I mean goddamn).
Of course romantic tension in the form of Magnus’s ridiculous crush on Alex is fine but WE’RE NOT QUITE THERE YET HANG ON.
I’m glad this is a trilogy because I feel like this story can be nicely wrapped up in three books. I love the Helheim out these characters and the tie in to the Greek/Roman series in the form of Annabeth hopefully means we can see more of them. I like the throwaway callouts to both ancient Norse mythology and pop culture (though I’ll never forgive you for that pinball wizard thing, Rick. Come on, know your audience, no one but me is going to catch that.) but those are pretty standard for Rick by this point, right? We can look forward to those little quips in anything he likes. But no, after this third book, I feel like these characters’ story will have been told. I mean they’re all dead and Sam is retiring. After Blitz and Hearth get married, what else is there?
Now I kind of want to call back to my review of the last book.
Yeah I focus a lot on Blitz/Hearth (How could you not it’s right there. But I did pick up on something with Magnus, too.
Now, he doesn’t do the obvious thing,
when does he ever,but by the end of the book, Magnus still doesn’t have an obvious love interest. By the end of The Lightning Thief, we at least knew Percy and Annabeth were going to be a thing… So if Magnus was going to be a thing with any character we’ve been introduced to so far, we’d know already. This possibility of Magnus being queer is still wide open. And I am overjoyed.
So, even though Magnus’s attraction to Alex doesn’t confirm anything for us directly about his sexuality, I would just like to say that I CALLED IIIITTTTTTT!!!!
I know I shouldn’t be bragging about picking up on subtext designed for children but my brother was particularly contrary to this point so I just want to take this opportunity to say IN YOUR FACE MICHAEL THE GAY IS REAL FREAKING SUCK IT!
Magnus continued to be the least hetero protagonist (barring Apollo, of course. NO ONE is less hetero than Apollo) by throwing out constant commentary about the beautiful and handsome faces of literally every male he comes across. EVEN A GIANT! Like… honeybear…
And we have finally arrived at Alex Fierro.
ALEX MOTHERFREAKING FIERRO!
You can see my building hype in my tweets:
GENDER FLUID CHARACTEEEEEEEEER pic.twitter.com/gpKp7RiGT1
— Jess Maggio (@JessJessDaBest) October 4, 2016
“He doesn’t even have a weapon”
“She,” Alex corrected.
“What?” Mallory asked.
“Call me she—unless and until I tell you otherwise.”
— Jess Maggio (@JessJessDaBest) October 4, 2016
He even used to words, I’m puking pic.twitter.com/LqTEekGjZe
— Jess Maggio (@JessJessDaBest) October 4, 2016
So yeah, to no one’s surprise, Alex Fierro is the most important character in this book and my favorite.
I’m going to continue to gush about Alex but first let me address how AMAZING it is that a character like this was added to this narrative. For this audience!
We all thought Nico was groundbreaking. WELL! MY BUDDY! MY GUY! GET READY!
The conversations opened up by a gender fluid character being introduced EVEN AMONG THE OTHER CHARACTERS! Astounding! We get a look at what non-gender-conforming people look like in different cultures. Magnus provides the western perspective by talking about the trans kids he saw on the streets (and bringing up queer homeless teens? RICK!) and then the two-spirit Mother William from the Lenape tribe. THAT’S A THING! I LEARNED ABOUT THAT IN MY QUEER HISTORY CLASS! And argr? I mean, the term is problematic, (AS POINTED OUT BY ALEX! “I’ll decide what’s unmanly.” YES YOU WILL, SUGAR, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!) but the fact that there’s a WORD in NORSE to embody this concept is just something amazing that Rick brings to the table. This sentence is one of my literal favorite things about this book, brought to us by ‘an enlightened modern man from the year 865 C.E.’: “Gender-fluid people are hardly a new thing, Magnus.”
YOU’RE GODDAMNED RIGHT!
So yeah, Alex is important.
Even without the gender identity stuff, though, s/he would still be my favorite character. (Sidenote: can I talk about how AWESOME it is that it is CANONICALLY ADDRESSED WITHIN THE TEXT that Alex doesn’t like ‘they’ as a pronoun when referring to him/herself? Like WE DON’T HAVE TO WONDER! THE CHARACTER HAS CONFIRMED! THAT’S AMAZING!) I love Alex because s/he is funny and snarky and unapologetic and knows him/herself well enough that s/he can just whip out a lecture whenever it’s called for. And yeah, s/he gets defensive and guarded but it’s compelling. Because this character isn’t mean just to be mean and moody for its own sake. Alex bonds relatively quickly to Sam and Magnus’s floor-mates. S/he isn’t standoffish for very long, agreeing to be Sam’s male relative chaperone after A DAY of knowing her. S/he snaps at people who disrespect him/her but s/he’s upfront and doesn’t beat around what’s upsetting him/her. And s/he’s critical to the narrative!
Without Alex, this story wouldn’t have worked. That’s the trick to knowing whether or not a character is ‘token’. Without Alex in the wedding dress, not following Loki’s orders, the plan would have failed. Without Alex, changing into that elephant and winning the bowling challenge, the gang wouldn’t have gotten out alive. Without Alex to teach Sam how to control her own will over Loki’s, there would be no going forward for Sam’s narrative. So genuine a character! So important in representation and in the new relationships s/he contributes to the narrative! NOT JUST A LOVE INTEREST! NOT JUST A TOKEN QUEER/TRANS REP!
I am so looking forward to seeing fanart of this character and SO looking forward seeing more of him/her in the next/last book. Rick did his job, I’m hype.
AND NOW I HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE ‘NOTHER YEAR OH NOOOOOOOOOOOO.
RIP me, tbh.