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The Blackwell Pages: Loki’s Wolves

by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr

The most frightening aspect of apocalyptic stories is not the means by which the world will end, but the fact of the end itself. Continent-crushing tsunamis, giant meteors, and zombies are all very scary, but none of those calamities can deliver a scare quite like the feeling that everything you know and love is about to disappear.

This holds true even when the story’s intended audience is a shade too young for full-on Armageddon. Loki’s Wolves, the first book in a new series co-written by Canadian fantasy-horror master Kelley Armstrong and American author Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely), is an end-times adventure that does a perfectly good job of delivering the adventure part, while eliding most of the doom and darkness that could have made it truly memorable.

Armstrong and Marr start out with a great premise. In the fictional town of Blackwell, South Dakota, most of the residents are descended from either Thor, the Norse god with the hammer, or Loki, the trickster who brings about the end of the world. Matt Thorsen (get it?), the book’s central hero, is not as big or strong as his brothers, and he lacks the self-confidence you think would come naturally to the descendant of a hero-god. On the other hand, he wears a hammer-shaped amulet that glows and burns when trouble is afoot, and when riled, he can deliver a punch that will flatten his rival.

For some time, Blackwell – and the rest of the world – has been experiencing severe natural disasters, like the sudden revival of long-dormant volcanoes, punishing tidal waves, and harsh winters that seem to be coming earlier and earlier. Matt soon discovers that all of these linked calamities foretell the coming of Ragnarök, the Norse apocalypse brought about, in part, by Loki. To everyone’s surprise, the town’s elders pick Matt as the world’s champion, who must defeat the giant Midgard Serpent. It’s a tall order for a 13-year-old. Even worse, he discovers that some people are counting on him to fail, believing that the Earth could use a good cleansing.

Even as he is absorbing this news, Matt falls in with two former rivals: Fen and Laurie, a pair of Loki-descended cousins. The three of them do battle with a gang of lycanthropic toughs living in the woods, which starts them on a quest to find the kind of weapons a god might need to fight a giant serpent. In the meantime, they assemble a Dirty Dozen–style band of kids with special powers and abilities, all of which become necessary as they dodge shape-shifters and the police.

There’s a lot of action in Loki’s Wolves. Within the first 10 pages, Matt has already demonstrated his super-punch, and the chapters that follow are full of battles, chases, and narrow escapes. The story’s mythological underpinnings are constantly brought to the fore, though rarely in a way that feels heavy-handed; only occasionally are things bogged down with exposition. And we are spared a long buildup before everybody’s true identities are revealed: most Blackwell residents know about the Norse god lineage.

The novel also contains some great narrative set pieces, like the nighttime battles with the werewolves, and the scene in which Matt, Laurie, and Fen discover the troll-centric truth about Mount Rushmore. What it lacks is a sense of urgency and foreboding. Aside from some unseasonably chilly weather and a well-timed tornado, we never see much of the devastation supposedly being set loose upon the world.

Part of the problem lies in the book’s pacing. Moments that should feel earth-shatteringly important – like the kids’ initial departure from Blackwell – are skimmed over, while more entr’acte-type scenes are allowed to stretch beyond their natural limits. Much time is spent establishing the three protagonists in the Harry, Ron, and Hermione mould. (Actually, more like Harry, Draco, and Hermione – there is a growing sense that Fen may ultimately give in to his Loki-esque nature.) And yet, by the end of the book, their personalities still feel vague.

It may be that Loki’s Wolves is merely the fun-filled starter to a series that will grow darker as it goes on, the way the Harry Potter books did. Otherwise, young readers may happily turn the pages in little danger of losing sleep. Armstrong and Marr are both pros at spooking kids. Here’s hoping that with the next instalment they really start to show their fangs.


Reviewer: Nathan Whitlock

Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette


Price: $18.5

Page Count: 368 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-31260-496-5

Released: May

Issue Date: 2013-4

Categories: Children and YA Fiction

Age Range: 8-12

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