The debut novel from Winnipeg writer and bookseller (and frequent Q&Q reviewer) Chadwick Ginther starts with a bang – literally. A cataclysmic explosion at a facility in the Alberta oil sands leaves hundreds dead and geologist Ted Callan, who witnesses the event, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ted’s emotional scars come from what he sees afterward: “something stepped from the fire. It was too big to be real. Shaped like a man, but the height of a building, it stepped out of the inferno grinning like the devil himself.”
The creature, it turns out, is Surtur, a figure out of Norse mythology intent on destroying the world. Ted finds himself drawn into the eternal conflicts of the Norse sagas now unfolding on the Canadian Prairies.
From the moment of Surtur’s emergence, events transpire with the seeming inevitability of myth. Ted travels to Winnipeg, but his journey is interrupted by an attractive young hitchhiker who reads his fortune. An encounter in a bar leads to a brutal attack – rendered in cringe-inducing detail – that leaves Ted tattooed over most of his body and endowed with superhuman powers.
Ginther handles both the mythic and human aspects of Thunder Road with considerable skill. His characters straddle the line between human beings and pawns, appearing simultaneously self-determined and fated. That balance allows Ginther relatively free rein with his narrative, and he takes every advantage, leavening timeless, epic battle scenes (there’s a confrontation in a hall of giants that could have been drawn directly from the myths themselves) with adroit, knowing winks to the reader.
Thunder Road is a fast-paced, thoughtful novel, and news that it’s the first in a trilogy is welcome indeed.