“Humans are nothing but filthy, blood-thirsty monsters,” says Freya at the beginning of this novel. “I don’t want to touch them or even talk to them. All they ever want to do is fight and kill.”
That’s an odd thing for a Valkyrie to say. If you know anything about Norse mythology, you know that Freya and her sisters are an elite group of winged battle-maidens who escort war casualties to Valhalla (otherwise known as Odin’s Great Heavenly Hall for the Heroic Dead). It’s in Freya’s job description to interact with humans on the battlefield.
Nowadays, Freya is one of the most beloved goddesses in Norse mythology. But in this adventure she’s just a spunky teenager with very little Valkyrie experience on her resume. She spends most of her time entertaining Thor and his drinking buddies in Asgard. And when she gets a moment, she tends to Sylt, her Reaping Mare. She’s got a long way to go before she becomes the goddess of love, sex, fertility, beauty, war, and death.
As luck would have it, Freya’s path to deification gets sidetracked during her first official visit to Midgard. “Don’t be afraid,” she tells a fatally injured soldier. “I’m a Valkyrie, chooser of the slain. I’m here to take you to Valhalla.” The soldier doesn’t care who she is or what her mission is. He doesn’t want to die.
Tyrone Johnson has family back in Chicago (actually a Chicago suburb called Lincolnwood) that desperately needs him. He’s got two small children to support and a mother who’s dying of cancer. His wife is struggling to keep the family together, but she’s stuck in a low-paying job. The last thing Tyrone wants to do is ascend to Valhalla or be escorted through the Gates of Ascension.
Despite Freya’s former disdain for humans, she decides to stay on Midgard and help Tyrone’s family as best she can. She knows All-father Odin won’t be pleased. If he finds out about her defection, he’ll tear off her wings and rip out her eyes. And worst of all, he’ll banish her from Asgard forever.
But Freya is a headstrong young maiden. Ignoring pleas from her sisters, and counsel from her nagging raven Orus, she makes contact with Tyrone’s family. Before long, she starts patrolling the dark alleyways of Chicago fighting crime like a superhero. She even spouts memorable catchphrases like “Stop now or face my wrath!” and “Your reign of terror in this neighborhood ends now!” Woe is the miscreant who stumbles upon a raging rogue Valkyrie. As Freya says: “I’m not human … I’m super human.”
Valkyrie is inescapably a middle-grade novel. Is that bad? No, of course not. But there’s no extra spark that helps it rise above its audience’s expectations or reading level. That means if you’re older than 12 or 13 (like us), you’ll probably grow impatient with the book’s thinly drawn characters and contrived plotting.
In its favor, however, the book has plenty of humor. Both Thor and Loki play important (albeit supporting) roles in the book, and their reoccurring pratfalls are always good for a laugh or two. (Because of his godly manner and exaggerated personality, Thor is the butt of every joke. And Loki is terrific as a substitute high school teacher who mocks and bullies his students.) We can only hope that someone at Marvel Comics is paying attention. We’d love to see a buddy picture (like I Love You, Man or Planes, Trains and Automobiles) featuring these two long-time Asgard rivals.
[Valkyrie / By Kate O’Hearn / First Printing: February 2016 / ISBN: 9781481447379]