Thunder Road is the kind of book that might never have been on my radar if it hadn’t been nominated for the Aurora. And at the same time, it’s exactly the sort of book that I want the Auroras to introduce me to. Written by a Manitoban and set largely in the author’s native province, it blends Norse mythology into the Canadian landscape as smoothly and naturally as Joss Whedon married the Hellmouth to Southern California.
We meet Ted Callan on a long drive from Alberta to Winnipeg with all his worldly possessions piled into the back of his GTO. His life is at its nadir, or so it seems: His marriage has fallen apart and he’s just left his job on the oil sands. The official reason is post-traumatic stress following an accident on the patch, but the vision that haunts his nightmares — the towering figure that walked out of the flames vowing to burn the world — is not your ordinary trauma. And now that he’s faced that horror, it’s not the only extraordinary thing that Ted is fated to encounter.
Before he knows it, he’s surrounded by figures from Norse mythology, from the Norns with their visions of the future, past, and present to the dvergar who bestow (or impose) their powerful gifts on him, with the trickster god Loki playing the role of self-appointed guide to the increasing chaos that is Ted’s new life. Oh, and don’t forget the jötnar, including the fire giant Surtur who started it all. Ted is caught up in a quest with multiple factions all seeking the same thing (but to different ends), as he comes to grips with his hew abilities, forges unlikely alliances, and tries to work out what he himself wants out of all of this.
Myths and fairy tales are enjoying a renaissance, if such a thing could be said of timeless stories that have been around for centuries. Not all media drawn from folklore do justice to their source material, but Ginther makes good use of the Norse stories (with a couple swipes at a certain Marvel franchise along the way). A character like Loki could be a one-note template; here he’s a fully realized individual. The giants and dwarves could be creatures out of a D&D manual, but they’re more than just adversaries for Ted to defeat.
Thunder Road manages to tell a story with an epic sweep, where the fate of the world depends on one (woefully unprepared) man. Yet it also stays grounded in a world that feels like it might be just below the surface of the universe we live in. It’s the latter aspect of the book that I find most impressive, and reminds me of the recent television adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes character in the way that it weaves elements of the mythology into the story it has to tell.
I tend to be wary of picking up the first volume in a trilogy, particularly if it’s by an author I’m not familiar with. Thunder Road, however, tells a satisfying tale on its own, without leaving the impression that the premise is played out. The highest praise I can think of to give this novel is that I’m looking forward to reading about Ted’s further adventures in the next volume.