There are trilogies where each volume stands relatively independent, or can be enjoyed on its own merits without deep knowledge of its siblings. Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road series is not one of these. Not only do the later volumes draw much of their emotional resonance from the events of the preceding ones, but reading them in the wrong order will also spoil major plot details from the books that have come before. So, if you’re not already acquainted with the adventures of Ted Callan, I’m not going to convince you to start here.
Too Far Gone begins, as it rightly should, with a road trip. Only this time, Ted isn’t behind the wheel, and he’s headed in the opposite direction from when we met him back in Thunder Road, going back to his old stomping grounds to stand up at his friend Ryan’s wedding. It’s not an overstatement to say that Ted isn’t the same man who left Alberta just nine months earlier. But, thanks to Loki (who’s enjoying taking on a female form these days), he’s not the weapon that he’s grown accustomed to being either.
The tension between who Ted has become and where he’s come from is fertile ground — we never got much of a sense before of what his life was before it all went sideways — but it bumps up against two of the more annoying tropes of superhero stories. As part of his disguise to slip back into Edmonton without attracting the fire giant Surtur’s attention, Ted must hide his powers. Thus he spends most of the book resisting the urge to use his dvergar-given gifts lest he reveal himself to the enemy. It can be a nice change of pace to have the hero face more mundane challenges rather than constantly leaping from battle to battle, but one doesn’t read this trilogy for the drama of getting to the rehearsal dinner on time.
The other problem is that knowledge of the existence of magic opens you up to all manner of threats from the inhabitants of the Nine Worlds. So Ted also spends most of the book, having left the allies he’s made in the preceding months behind in Winnepeg, trying to keep the secret from his friends and family. The problem of how to let others in on the true nature of reality, or one’s hidden identity, is a staple of this kind of story, but it’s rare that a hero who’s already found his Scooby Gang goes backward and once again has to go it alone (with the possible exception of one highly unreliable trickster god by his side). And as, inevitably, those around him figure things out on their own, or world-threatening events become impossible to ignore, it begins to feel like Ted protests too much.
I might quibble with the balance of the magic and the mundane in this final volume, but Too Far Gone still delivers the elements that makes this series enjoyable to read. Ted is a flawed hero who relies on an unlikely group of friends, allies, and frenemies to save the world, and almost every (surviving) memorable character from the first two books makes an appearance here. The underpinnings of magic are so solid, it feels like you could manipulate the elements yourself if only the author weren’t so stingy with the details. And the final showdown is Epic with a capital E.
Bottom line? I recommend Thunder Road without qualification, Tombstone Blues for those who enjoyed their first foray into the Nine Worlds, and Too Far Gone for anyone who, after reading the first two books, needs to find out whether Ted manages to slay his demons, both literal and figurative, without losing his humanity.