Kelly McCullough,
Ravirn #4: MythOS
(Ace, 2009)

In the fictive universe of MythOS, magic, science and mythology are all equally powerful and equally true. Magic, as exercised by the gods and goddesses of Olympus, is now modernized and exercised through computer and Internet codes. Spells are hummed or whistled lines of code, and run through the "mweb" or magical counterpart of the World Wide Web. For this book, the setting shifts to a different "pantheoverse" where the Norse deities run things.

Let's examine first the dramatis personae:

Ravirn, now known as Raven: A young, former graduate student in systems engineering, also an accomplished hacker, and a near-immortal descendant of Lachesis, one of the Greek Fates.

Melchior: Ravirn's wizarding "familiar," a webgoblin who alternates between looking like a small, bald, blue man and a blue laptop computer; he possesses a mastery of sarcasm and a powerful sense of loyalty.

Magaera, Tisiphone and Alecto: Collectively known as "The Furies," these three children of the goddess Necessity are the "heavies" or punishers of the Immortals. However, Tisiphone, with her fiery wings, might just be in love with Ravirn, and the feeling might be mutual.

Ahllan: An ugly, fierce-looking but caring and grandmotherly webtroll who might just be the key to everything.

Odin: The chief amongst the Norse gods, a tall man with one eye. What happened to the missing eye? Does it impair his vision to be one-eyed? The answers to those questions are crucial to the story.

Loki: The son of Odin, the god of fire and a trickster. Never trust Loki, but he might just not be a bad guy.

Fenris: Loki's son, fated to someday slay Odin at Ragnorok, the battle between the gods at the end of time, in Norse mythology. Fenris is a wolf.

Laginn: The severed hand of Tyr, a Norse god. Laginn has a mind of its own and manages to be highly expressive and easy to like, for a severed hand. Laginn must periodically spend time in the stomach of Fenris, who bit the hand off Tyr.

Jormungand: The Norse god who is the brother of Odin. He is an enormous (world-girding), intelligent, chatty serpent who lives in the seas.

The tale starts with Ravirn deciding to try to hack into the giant computer of the Greek gods to try to fix what seems to be going wrong with the "mweb" and discover the fate and whereabouts of Ahllan the webtroll. However, as it often ends up with Ravirn, things go in a direction different from what is expected. Ravirn is the ultimate example of "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger," taking it all the way to "Whatever doesn't kill me will take me one step closer to full divinity." He repeatedly does well-intentioned things that blow up in his face and thoroughly irritate the powers-that-be, but end up leaving him with new abilities. In the first book of the series, he was a mortal-but-long-lived human; after a series of disasters, detailed in the books, he saves everything several times and has become Raven, a Greek demigod.

This time, Ravirn's attempt to hack into the Greek mainframe of reality, to fix it and to search for Ahllan, lands him, Melchior and Tisiphone in an alternate universe, or quantum multiverse, where the Norse gods run things. While they find Ahllan, she is probably dying, they all get pulled into the never-ending conflict between Odin and Loki, and little bits and pieces of ugliness keep popping into this Asgard-driven world, as in body parts from Tisiphone's sisters. Can they prevent Ahllan's death? Can they help the Aesir (Norse deities) prevent Ragnorok? Can they find a way back home to find out what sort of chaos has erupted there?

As with the previous books in this series, the action is non-stop, the characters are not only well-developed but are also evolving and the plot is complex but coherent. Ravirn, Melchiora and Tisiphone have all lost some of their powers and abilities. They face a serious fish-out-of-water situation, but are adept at, and experienced at, playing things by ear and ad-libbing. The new characters, namely the Norse deities, are fascinating and three-dimensional. The author gave himself the task of creating another entire type of reality that differs from the one in the prior books. The resulting story therefore has a freshness that would be hard to create otherwise. Meanwhile, the bits and pieces of disaster-remnants, that keep showing up, add a sense of urgency and tension, as they suggest that terrible things are happening back home, but not in any definitive or clear way.

The writing remains as clear and as crisp and as well-paced as in the previous books. There are several surprises, but they all make sense, in retrospect. While the fictional worlds of these stories are very strange and challenge the reader's imagination, they are cohesive and have internal validity (i.e., they make sense within their own context).

I look forward to the next book!

review by
Chris McCallister

24 October 2009

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