This is a young adult series, yes, but Rick Riordan pushes the social bar further than a lot of popular fiction. He broke down barriers with the Percy Jackson series (Spoiler alert: Nico is gay) and with this series he completely annihilates what’s left.
The main character, Magnus Chase, is Annabeth’s cousin, so there are some lines drawn between the Gods of Olympus and Trials of Apollo series. I will admit, I have had heated debates with my boyfriend about how there can be both a Greek underworld and a Norse “underworld” at the same time, but outside of a few logical err’s, its an amazing series. Magnus’ mother was killed before the start of the book, and without a father or guardian to step in, Magnus turned to living on the streets. The story is obviously aimed at children, but Riordan does not shy away from illustrating the hardships a street kid like Magnus has to go through to survive. Two people have taken it upon themselves to keep Magnus safe, from what, he doesn’t know. One of his protectors is deaf, so Riordan makes sure to incorporate ASL when Magnus and his companion Blitzen talk to Hearthstone.
The best part about the entire series, which makes it so unlike his Olympus series, is that to get the story started …Magnus dies. He is brought to Valhalla by the Valkyrie Samirah (who is an openly practicing Muslim, wears a head-scarf, and is in an arranged marriage) where he learns that he is a demi-god. He ends up on a quest to find the sword of summer and stop the release of the wolf Fenris. His father is the God of summer, not someone of war or power …summer. It was both anti-climactic and amazing at the same time.
This is the book where you learn a bit about Samirah’s backstory and why she is a Valkyrie, but you learn much more about the Fashion savvy dwarf Blitzen and what he had to deal with in his home world.
The first book was great, amazing, a standard Riordan fast paced, hopeless scenario, full charged race against time. The second book was very similar in that aspect but the thing that blew me away was one of the characters that joins the group is transgendered. I have transgendered friends so this representation had me nearly through the roof with excitement. The child of Loki, Alex, is also gender-fluid and switches between male and female throughout the book. Because of the abilities they gained from Loki, Alex is a shape-shilter, but can not always control it (you’re introduced to Alex in cheetah form tearing through the halls of Hotel Valhalla, where they all live). Alex is upfront about it, and states very proudly what gender they currently are and will remain that way until they tell you differently. And the group is okay with it. Magnus most of all because he has been on the streets with kids that were kicked from their homes for being transgendered. Riordan makes it an issue, and then immediately makes it a non-issue. But he does not shy away from the characters having serious talks to learn more about what is means to Alex and what they have gone through growing up.
The second book also revolves around a lost weapon and the race against time (and a new arranged marriage for poor Sam) but it doesn’t feel like a re-hashing of the first book. Characters grow (err, metaphorically since they are either dead or don’t age), and you learn more about the elf Hearthstone’s background and his family that abandoned and abused him because he was deaf and not perceived as perfect.
I recommend this series to everyone who stays still long enough to listen to me. As well as all of the Olympus series, since we’re on the topic. I don’t care if it’s classified as 9 – 12, there are a lot of adults who can learn from what Rick Riordan writes.