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Book Review

The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

A few months earlier, Magnus Chase and his friends — a group of warriors descended from the Norse gods — were tasked with finding and returning Thor’s hammer. They were unaware, however, that the theft of Thor’s hammer was arranged by Loki, the god of evil, as part of his plan to escape imprisonment. Loki’s escape is one of the events that is prophesied to trigger Ragnarok, the final battle between gods and giants. Unless Magnus and his friends can find Loki and recapture him, the end of the world could occur sooner than expected.

All Magnus and his friends know is that Loki is somewhere on the border between Jotunheim and Niflheim, the worlds of giants and ice, preparing to sail a heavily armed ship into battle. They must find the ship before midsummer, when the ice will recede enough for it to leave harbor, and prevent it from sailing.

Magnus has spent the past few months learning how to sail from his cousin’s boyfriend, Percy Jackson, in preparation for the sea voyage to Jotunheim and Niflheim. Percy is the son of the Greek sea god named Poseidon. After a particularly grueling training session, Magnus and his friend Alex Fierro decide to visit the house he inherited from his late uncle, Randolph. Randolph died helping Loki escape, but left instructions in his will for Magnus to carefully search the papers left behind in the mansion. Magnus hopes that his uncle had a change of heart and left a message that will help them defeat Loki.

Magnus and Alex search the house. They are unable to find anything useful hidden in Randolph’s papers or anywhere else. As they reach the top floor, they are startled to see a wolf attempting to break in through a skylight. Magnus believes that the wolf has been sent to retrieve something, so he suggests letting it inside to help them search.

The wolf shows no interest in Alex and Magnus and immediately grabs a mead horn off of the mantle. They are forced to kill the wolf to retrieve it. Inside the mead horn, they find a small journal in Uncle Randolph’s handwriting. Near the end of the journal, Magnus finds a note addressed to him that implies that something called the Whetstone of Bolverk might help them stop Loki. There is a bit more to the message, but it is written in Old Norse, which Magnus can’t read.

Magnus and Alex return to Hotel Valhalla. In his room, Magnus finds a note explaining that the tides are right to sail toward Jotunheim and Niflheim and that his hallmates, T.J., Mallory and Halfborn, are waiting at the dock. Magnus runs into the hotel manager on his way to meet them and asks him to translate the rest of Randolph’s message. All the manager can tell Magnus is that it says something about mead.

Magnus, T.J., Mallory and Halfborn immediately set sail. Alex goes to find her half-sister, Samirah al-Abbas, who uses her Valkyrie abilities to fly her and Alex to the ship. The crew also plans to meet up with Magnus’ friends Hearthstone and Blitzen, an elf and dwarf that he befriended while all three were homeless near a place called Deer Island Lighthouse. Before they arrive at the island, however, their ship is sucked into a whirlpool by nine water giantesses. The ship seems to be headed to the bottom of the ocean but eventually resurfaces in a giant cauldron of mead.

A giant who introduces himself as Aegir lifts them out of the cauldron. He offers them guest rights, meaning that they will not be harmed and are welcome to share a meal with Aegir and his daughters — the nine water giantesses. The giantesses also captured Hearth and Blitz.

Before the meal can begin, however, one of Aegir’s daughters recognizes Magnus — he had a disagreement with Ran, Aegir’s wife, a few months earlier. She instructed Aegir to kill Magnus if he ever had an opportunity.

Magnus knows, however, that Aegir is particularly proud of his home-brewed mead. He claims that they came to talk to Aegir about mead, convincing the giant to at least wait until after dinner to decide whether he wants to kill them.

During dinner Magnus asks a giantess if she knows anything about Bolverk. She explains that Bolverk is the alias that Odin used to steal Kvasir’s mead and also mentions that Kvasir’s mead is one type of mead that Aegir cannot brew. Sam secretly tells Magnus that she believes they can use the mead to defeat Loki.

Magnus promises Aegir that if he lets them leave unharmed, Magnus will challenge Loki to a flyting (or battle of insults) and will use the mead of Kvasir to give himself an edge. He also promises to bring Aegir a sample of the mead as payment.

Aegir agrees but does not want to anger his wife, so he states that he will leave the room to allow them to escape, but they must battle his nine daughters. The giantesses attack as soon as he leaves, and Magnus quickly realizes that he and his friends will not be able to defeat the giantesses alone. He prays to his father for help. A sea god named Njord, who happens to be Magnus’ grandfather, appears and helps them escape. He transports Magnus and his companions, as well as their boat, out of the giants’ hall.

Njord explains that Kvasir’s mead increases the drinker’s eloquence and is Magnus’ only hope for defeating Loki in a flyting contest. Only a small portion of the mead still exists, and it is jealously guarded by a group of giants. Njord states that Hearth and Blitz will have to go on a scouting mission to find Bolverk’s whetstone, which will help them defeat the mead’s guardians.

Njord tells the rest of the crew to sail to a town in England call Jorvik to learn the location of the mead from a giant. The last bit of advice he gives them is that the palace of Skadi is the only safe place that they will find in Niflheim. Njord then leaves with Hearth and Blitz, promising to transport them back to the boat once they have completed their scouting mission.

Magnus and his remaining friends arrive safely in Jorvik a few days later. Magnus, Alex and T.J. go to find the giant, while the rest of the crew stays behind to guard the ship. Magnus, Alex and T.J. must defeat the giant in battle before he will reveal the location of the mead, but they eventually learn that that the mead is in Flam, a small Norwegian town. They return to the ship and continue their voyage. Before they arrive in Flam, however, Hearth and Blitz return saying that they’ve located the whetstone. Hearth’s father, Alderman, has it in his collection of artifacts.

Hearth’s father blamed Hearth for the death of his other son, Andiron, and forced Hearth to pay a blood debt. The only way Hearth could pay the debt was through stealing a dwarf’s hoard of gold. The hoard included a cursed ring that brings out the worst in whoever wears it. In a few short months, it transformed Alderman into a fire-breathing dragon. Hearth and Blitz located the whetstone in the dragon’s hoard, but they need Magnus’ help retrieving it.

The three friends find a portal to Alfheim, the world of elves, and journey into the woods behind Alderman’s house to find his new lair. Hearth, Blitz and Magnus decide that they cannot leave Alderman in this cursed state. They plan to kill him. Underneath the forest floor is a network of burrows dug by magical creatures called brownies. Magnus hides in one of these burrows. Hearth and Blitz lure the dragon over the opening of the burrow, and Magnus stabs him in the belly. The dragon dies, and they retrieve the whetstone.

They return to the ship and arrive in Flam shortly afterward. The giant in Jorvik said that they would need to take a train to get to the location of the mead, so Mallory, Magnus and Sam board a tourist train heading into the mountains. While they are on the train, Mallory’s godly mother, Frigg, appears to them. She tells them where to disembark from the train and also gives them a magical walnut shell that she says will be able to contain Loki if Magnus defeats him in the flyting. She leaves them, and they arrive at their train stop.

Mallory, Sam and Magnus know that the mead is being kept in a cave in the side of a mountain cliff, but they first have to cross a wheat field that is being harvested by several giants. The harvesters double as guards. The giants immediately spot Mallory, Sam and Magnus. They explain that they cannot take a break from harvesting until the field is completely empty, but their blades are dull and the wheat grows back as quickly as they can cut it down.

Mallory offers to sharpen their blades with the whetstone of Bolverk. They accept and are able to finish harvesting the field but are still determined to kill the three trespassers. Mallory suggests that the giants should decide who gets to keep the whetstone first though. They decide that she should toss it in the air and whoever catches it gets to keep it. As they rush to catch it, however, they all impale each other on their newly sharpened blades. The three friends are able to find the mead in the now unguarded cave.

They return to the ship, and the crew sails toward Niflheim. As they get closer, the ocean begins to freeze, eventually forcing them leave the ship and walk. They narrowly make it to Skadi’s fortress before freezing to death. She allows them to stay the night and gives them directions to Loki’s ship. The friends decide that when they arrive at the ship the next day, the majority of the crew will openly attack Loki’s ship, which is manned by an army of giants and zombies. Magnus will then sneak aboard to find Loki. The rules of combat state that all fighting must cease if the army’s leader accepts a personal challenge.

The next morning Magnus drinks Kvasir’s mead, and the friends travel to Loki’s ship. Everything goes according to plan until Magnus issues the challenge. Loki initially refuses. But the leader of the giants forces him to accept as a matter of honor.

Loki and Magnus begin exchanging insults. Magnus grows physically smaller with each new insult from Loki. He realizes that he has no hope of beating Loki at a battle of insults. Magnus decides that he needs to rely on his strengths and realizes that his greatest strength is his team of friends. Rather than insulting Loki, he begins to boast about his friends. With each boast Loki becomes smaller. Eventually he is small enough to fit into Frigg’s walnut shell and the flyting ends.

The battle only pauses during the challenge, so Magnus and his friends leave the ship as quickly as possible afterward. They deliver Loki over to the gods and return to Hotel Valhalla. Magnus decides to use the mansion that he inherited from his uncle to open a homeless shelter, which Alex helps him run. From then on, they split their time between Valhalla and the shelter.

Christian Beliefs

Magnus compares Skadi’s fortress to a church that he used to stay in to keep warm during winter while he was homeless. In Jorvik, Magnus and his friends end up fighting the giant in a Christian graveyard.

Other Belief Systems

In this novel, there are nine worlds that the Norse gods monitor and rule in some way. Various forms of magic are used throughout the story, including Hearth’s rune magic and a magical sculpture that Alex creates to help defeat a giant. Magnus periodically has visions and dreams of Loki’s progress on the ship of the dead. Loki’s army is composed primarily of the dishonored dead, which are essentially zombies.

When Magnus prepares to kill Alderman, one of his friends warns him that killing a ring dragon can affect his fate. The dragon’s curse could alter the course of his future and stain it in some way. Hearth summons the ghost of his younger brother to lure Alderman out of his lair.

Once Alderman is dead, Hearth, Blitz and Magnus must either destroy or eat his heart to put his spirit to rest. If Hearth chooses to eat the heart, he would inherit Alderman’s wisdom and memories. Before he can decide, Magnus knocks the heart into the fire, destroying it. He gets some blood on his hand, however, and accidentally puts it in his mouth. Hearth explains that fate decided that Magnus would taste the blood.

Magnus explains that since he is one of Odin’s immortal warriors, he can’t die permanently as long as he is within Hotel Valhalla. He also mentions Helheim, which is where the souls of the dishonorable dead spend their afterlives. Njord warns Magnus that if Loki wins the flyting, Magnus will suffer in Helheim for eternity.

Magnus prays to his father, Frey, a few times. Sometimes Magnus views these prayers as a joke, but when he prays earnestly, Frey sends his father, Njord, to help Magnus. Magnus mentions that he is an atheist.

Sam is Muslim and is observing Ramadan throughout their quest. She explains that she cannot eat, drink, curse, bathe or engage in any violence during daylight hours. Sam wears a hijab and prays to Allah daily. Loki is able to use a form of mind control on Sam, since he is her father and her power comes from him.

Sam hopes that praying and fasting will help her resist his control. The night before they battle Loki is the 27th night of Ramadan, which Sam explains is the night that Muhammad received his first revelation from Gabriel. It reaffirms her faith that there is something bigger than the Norse deities.

Magnus jokes about the religious paradox of Sam saying a Muslim prayer in the home of a Norse god. Sam uses the phrases inshallah and Allahu akbar, which Magnus translates as God-willing and God is greater respectively. Sam breaks her fast by eating dates each night because that is how the Prophet Muhammad broke fast. Magnus asks Sam how she keeps track of prayer times and the location of Mecca while she is in other worlds. She states that she takes her best guess because it’s the intention that counts.

Alex makes a sculpture with two faces. She explains that her ancestors from Tlatilco in Mexico created sculptures like this one to represent two spirits in a single body. Aegir mentions in passing that he is Buddhist. When Loki is recaptured, Odin explains that no one can change his foretold destiny. Ragnarok has been delayed, but the sequence of events will stay the same.

Authority Roles

Magnus remembers his mother as a joyful, loving woman, and he reminisces about trips they would take together before she died. Magnus’ Uncle Randolph betrayed him and helped Loki escape, but seemed to have a change of heart. He leaves Magnus his mansion and some instructions to help recapture Loki. Alex warns Magnus about trusting his uncle, saying that anything that you inherit from family always has strings attached.

Frey provides Magnus and his friends with a ship for their journey and helps periodically along the way. Mallory’s mother, Frigg, appears to help Magnus, Mallory, and Sam retrieve the mead of Kvasir and tells Mallory that she loves her. The other gods seem to have varying levels of care for and involvement with their children. T.J., for example, has never met his godly parent despite having been in Valhalla for over 150 years.

Magnus has a vision of Alex fighting with her father. Her father throws her out the front door of the house. She hits her head on the pavement and starts bleeding. He yells at her for not being normal and destroys a sculpture that she made, calling it trash. He also states that he is going to save his money for his real children.

Magnus comments that Alderman made Hearth’s childhood a living Helheim. Mallory mentions that her father was a deadbeat and a drunk. Magnus states that Loki verbally abuses and ignores his wife.

Profanity/Violence

Characters swear by Norse deities and worlds, using exclamations like “what the Helheim.” They also use Norse curse words like meinfretr which Magnus translates as stinkfart, and eldhusfifls, meaning village idiot. Magnus says frick and darn a few times and calls Alex’s dad a butt-hat. Magnus and his friends call each other moron, oaf, vixen, stupid, lout, and idiot.

T.J. died fighting in the Civil War and tells Magnus that the man who killed him called him the n-word. The word is not spelled out. Magnus states that Alex wore a shirt with an inappropriate hand gesture. D--n appears once as does b--tard.

Magnus states that at one point while he was training with Percy he broke every bone in his body and had to be rushed back to Valhalla so he could die and be resurrected. Alex and Magnus find a dead wolf in the foyer of Uncle Randolph’s house. It has a Viking rune burned into its skin. Alex decapitates another wolf and the carcass disintegrates.

The ship of the dead is made out of fingernails and toenails of the dishonored dead. When Magnus’ ship is sucked into the whirlpool, Halfborn hits his head on the rudder, gashing it and knocking himself unconscious. Aegir threatens to eat Blitz and Hearth. One of Aegir’s daughters threatens Magnus with a knife, and Aegir states that he promised his wife that he would drown Magnus, revive him and drown him again.

Magnus and his friends stab, shoot and strike Aegir’s daughters. Magnus states that Alex ripped one of the daughter’s faces off, but clarifies that the giant’s head just dissolved into seawater and reformed. No one is seriously hurt. Magnus remembers that Blitz’s father died while checking the bonds of a powerful magical wolf. Bili’s torn and bloody clothing washed up on the shore of the dwarf world.

Njord tells Magnus about the murder of Kvasir, a perfect being created by the gods. Magnus later has a vision of the murder. Kvasir offered to help two dwarves with their quarterly taxes. They kill him with something that Magnus states sounds like a chainsaw. He also reports hearing liquid gurgling as the dwarves drain Kvasir’s blood for its magical properties. This blood is then used to make the mead of Kvasir.

Halfborn jokes that Mallory died by trying to disarm a car bomb with her face. She later reveals that she set the bomb because she was an Irish nationalist and thought the bus that she targeted would be full of British soldiers. She later found out that the bus was full of schoolchildren and went back to disarm it.

T.J. tells Magnus about how he died in the Civil War. An enemy soldier challenged him to a duel. He states he shot the man in the chest, stabbed him in the gut with his bayonet and was then shot 30 times by other enemy soldiers. Magnus and Sam engage in training battles. Magnus reports being bruised and battered, and he accidentally hits Sam in the face with a mop handle, giving her a bloody nose.

Alex’s father physically abused her. When he throws her out of the door, she gashes her forehead, and blood trickles down her face. She also scrapes her hands, and they leave bloody marks on the pavement. The giant in Jorvik threatens to either squeeze Magnus and his friends to death or stomp on them and scrape their bodies off the bottom of his shoe.

T.J. shoots the giant in the eye while the giant tries to smash him with a club. A clay soldier that the giant created to assist him in battle attacks Alex. The clay soldier has a cow heart in its chest, which gets pulled out.

The giant attempts to crush T.J. in his fist but ends up dropping him. T.J. has two punctured lungs and heavy internal bleeding, but Magnus is able to heal him with the power of Frey. T.J. defeats the giant and cuts the tendons in his arms and legs with a bayonet. After they get the information they need, he stabs the giant’s heart.

When Magnus goes to face Alderman, he steps on a small deer skeleton with strips of meat and fur still hanging off it. Hearth explains that creatures called brownies used to live in the forest, but Alderman had them exterminated. Magnus hides in a tunnel and stabs the dragon in the heart.

Dragon blood is like acid, so after he stabs the dragon, Magnus must exit the tunnel quickly to avoid being disintegrated. Hearth cuts the dragon’s heart out with a sword and explains that he is considering eating the heart to preserve Alderman’s memories. Magnus causes the heart to fall into the fire.

A mistletoe dart, according to Frigg, killed Mallory’s half-brother, Balder. The giants guarding the mead of Kvasir accidentally impale each other while trying to catch the whetstone of Bolverk. Magnus fights another giant while trying to get back to the ship after he finds Kvasir’s mead. A flock of crows attacks the giant, pecking at his face and causing him to drop his battle-ax on his own head. Meanwhile Magnus’ crew was fighting another giant. Magnus sees a decapitated body when he returns to the ship.

Magnus reflects on the many deaths he experienced in Valhalla which range from burning to being stabbed. Magnus describes Loki’s zombies in detail, saying that were mainly skeletal but still had bits of flesh clinging to their bones. Magnus’ friends attack the zombies while he tries to find Loki.

Hearth uses rune magic to zap giants and zombies with lightning. Blitz crushes his enemies. Alex uses power she inherited from her father, Loki, to shape shift into various animals. At one point she becomes a mountain lion and bites a zombie’s head off. The rest of Magnus’ crew uses blades, spears and battleaxes to slash and stab the zombies. Magnus is battered during the fight and losing a tooth, so his mouth keeps filling with blood.

When Magnus defeats Loki in the flyting, Loki begins to dissolve into acid, stopping when he reaches a few inches tall. Magnus and his friends have to fight their way off the ship, destroying several zombies along the way. T.J. explains that the guard dog of Hel is destined to kill him after he bashes its head in. Thor wants to smash the walnut with Loki inside. Magnus mentions that Loki was formerly bound with the guts of his murdered children.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Percy kisses the top of his girlfriend’s head. A childhood friend of Hearth’s has a crush on him and kisses him on the cheek. A female giant mentions that Odin is a charmer and that she had her son, Bragi, nine months after he visited her.

Alex and Magnus share a brief kiss on the lips during their search for Skadi’s fortress. He mentions that their noses fit perfectly next to each other. They kiss again after they finish their quest, and Magnus states he feels like he is going to dissolve into the carpet.

Skadi states that Loki once falsely insinuated they slept together. During a celebratory feast, Halfborn and Mallory roll around in the aisles kissing. Alex identifies as transgender and genderfluid. Her pronouns change several times throughout the story.

Loki is a shape shifter, so though he is normally a male god, he is actually Alex’s mother. When Alex talks about her ancestors’ beliefs — that two spirits can inhabit one body — she uses it to explain gender-fluidity. During Alex’s second kiss with Magnus, Alex identifies as male and Magnus is unsure how he feels about kissing another male. He decides that he likes Alex and doesn’t care if he/she is male or female.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Slavery: T.J. is the son of a freed slave and talks a bit about the racism he experienced during the Civil War. He also gets angry when Mallory kills the giants that were guarding the mead, since they were slaves and didn’t have a choice.

Lying: Magnus and his friends lie and steal to accomplish their mission.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

10 to 14

Author

Rick Riordan

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Hyperion Books, a division of Disney Book Group

Released

On Video

Year Published

2017

Awards

Goodreads Choice Awards Best Middle Grade and Children’s, 2017

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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