Rick Riordan’s The Hammer of Thor is the second book in his Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. After saving the world, sixteen year old Magnus Chase and his friends are thrown headlong into another adventure orchestrated by the god of mischief, Loki. Thor’s hammer has been stolen and it’s up to Magnus to find it before giants attack and Ragnorak (the Norse Apocalypse) is unleashed.
While I did not think the first book was appropriate for the middle grade audience, I enjoyed the story and I had hope that this book would continue to engage an older teen audience. Unfortunately, when I got about a third of the way through the book, the cautions became too great for me to be able to recommend this story to our audience here at Redeemed Reader.
Rick Riordan is an author who is unafraid to give a voice to characters who may be marginalized or misunderstood in society. In the Percy Jackson series, Percy is an ADHD kid who never fit the mold of traditional learning. Percy was a symbol of hope for other kids with learning disabilities. As a teacher, I saw firsthand how special Riordan’s series was to students who felt like their differences were a handicap.
Through the years, Riordan sought to give a voice to students of different races, talents, and backgrounds. One of my favorite aspects about his work is that he writes diverse characters for a diverse audience. He normally treats characters and their struggles with respect, but lately his work has seemed less respectful to those characters he wants to explore.
This latest installment highlights this lack of respect in glaring technicolor. Riordan introduces Alex Fierro, a trans-gender, gender fluid teenage shapeshifter. Alex is a child of Loki who wants to break free of the god’s powerful hold. The introduction of Alex felt forced, especially when other characters are constantly left wondering what gender the teen will identify with at any given moment. This is treated by the author as something that other characters have to accept, respect, and if they are confused or hesitant, they (and the reader) are treated to a lecture on tolerance.
While Alex certainly has a painful backstory, other characters in Riordan’s world who have painful stories have refused to let their pasts define them. A great example of this would be Samirah al-Abbas, another child of Loki who is a Muslim. She’s had to endure many obstacles during her life, but is a brave, well-rounded character who is treated by the author with respect. Riordan beautifully portrays her heart and desire to honor her culture and family. Her heritage is brought up frequently, but she does not wear it as a chip on her shoulder. She quietly encourages Magnus (an atheist) to open his mind and heart.
Alex, on the other hand, is not given the same courtesy by the author. Riordan uses Alex to force tolerance in his readers. The subject is approached multiple times, and Alex’s spiteful attitude towards the world is given a pass because of the pain he endured.
Riordan’s treatment of LGBTQ issues has been disrespectful to both the characters and the audience. Young readers should not be bullied into tolerance. Riordan spends a good deal of time convincing readers that to disagree with an LGBTQ lifestyle is to be narrow minded. Along those same lines, characters in a story should have room to grow and should be identified beyond their sexuality, race, gender, and special skill set. Samirah al-Abbas is given goals (she wants to be a female pilot), a sense of humor, integrity, and loyalty. Alex is forced into the box of sexual identity. We as people should not be reduced to one aspect of ourselves and neither should these characters.
Riordan may believe he is giving a voice to the voiceless, but his brash manner and heavy handed language will alienate readers who used to love his work, and does a disservice to anyone who feels excluded in our society.