The Apples of Idunn: (Gods of the Ragnarok Era #1) by Matt Larkin (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

 

Order The Apples Of Idunn over
HERE

 

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: As a child, Matt read The Lord of the Rings with his
parents. This sparked a lifelong obsession with fantasy and started him on a
path of discovering the roots of fantasy through mythology. In exploration of
these ideas, the Eschaton Cycle was born—a universe of dark fantasy
where all myths and legends play out.

Matt writes retellings of mythology as dark, gritty
fantasy. His passions of myths, philosophy, and history inform his series. He
strives to combine gut-wrenching action with thought-provoking ideas and
culturally resonant stories.

Along with his wife and daughter, Matt lives as a digital
nomad, traveling the world while researching for his novels. He read
approximately a bazillion books a year, loves video games, and relaxes by binge
watching Netflix with his wife.

 

OFFICIAL
BOOK BLURB: Taste immortality …
First
he lost his father, and now Odin stands to lose his brother. Cursed by a misty
spirit, Odin’s only recourse to save his family is to find the ancient sorcerers
who stole the ghost’s most treasured possession, reclaim the amulet, and return
it to the ghost.

 

And his brother’s time is running
out. If he succeeds, a living goddess has promised Odin and his kin her apples
of immortality. But the sorcerers Odin seeks command the mists that poison the
world, the strength of the dead, and powers over the heart. If he gives into a
moment’s temptation, they will take from Odin his body, mind, and soul …

 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Matt Larkin’s Apples Of Idunn is an outstanding
addition to the pantheon of Norse inspired retellings. Each sentence expounds
the magic of myth into the reader’s imagination, Larkin transforming the legendary sagas into a modern dark fantasy.
In the vein of John Gwynne’s
makeover of classic fantasy, Larkin’s
fantastical reimaginings spellbound me whenever they graced the page,
absolutely nailing the atmosphere of gods walking amongst men. Whilst the
climax did feel hurried, the overall experience was one that transported me
into a world of myth and men, Jarls and Jottun. For that, one can find this
book more than worthy of raising a jar.

 

I first encountered Larkin’s book whilst perusing the
Audible website to find the longest audiobook possible. At 92+ hours, Larkin’s compilation of his Gods of the
Ragnarok Era series upended any possible competition, just as the impending
apocalypse of Ragnarok is sure to decimate our characters come series end.

 

Going in, my understanding of Norse
mythology shamefully came from what little morsels were sprinkled throughout
the Thor appearances in the Marvel universe. With Anthony Hopkin’s
Shakespearean Odin planted firmly within my mind, and Chris Hemsworth’s ‘fat
Thor’ decisively ejected I eagerly pressed play, finding myself entrenched in a
dreamlike world where myth met reality.

 

For those who don’t know, Larkin
writes his entire bibliography within a larger framework known as
the Eschaton Cycle
. The Eschaton Cycle essentially encompasses an mytho-historic
account of our world, with each ‘cycle’ of history resetting itself via a
different mythology. The Ragnarok Era was Matt’s
debut series and thus felt like a solid starting point (although readers can
find Matt’s own recommendations handily on his very informative website).

‘Fire is life’

A
reoccurring theme of the novel, and a fantastic opening line

 

 

The foreboding atmosphere is
immediately set into motion with the commencing of a firelit conversation
between everyone’s favourite troubled trickster Loki, and Mundilfari, the mad
Vanr. Utgard to Midgard, Vanaheim to Vanir, the lexicon of mythology instantly
immerses one into this world of many realms.

 

A word to the wise in fact for those
listening via audio narration, don’t set your speed too high, as Ulf
Bjorkland
’s Nordic inflections both add to the immersion and require one to
pause to take in the multitude of new terminologies.

 

This late-night dialogue establishes
what is sure to be the overarching narrative of this nine-book epic. Beyond the
Wall separating Midgard from the apocalyptic dangers of the Otherworld, chaos
reigns, and the realm of Utgard has fallen. The Era of Ragnarok approaches…

 

This book is ethereally sodden with
mythology through each turn of a page and it’s the most brilliant aspect by
far. Larkin attempts to bridge the gap between history and mythology, writing a
book that feels historical fiction and fantasy in equal measure. Having
consumed series 1 of the Last Kingdom almost simultaneously with Apples of
Idunn, one could imagine them occurring together in an alternate reality.
Matt’s depth of research is evidently very broad, and it is eminently clear
that Matt hasn’t just thrown a few words together but knows exactly how to
deploy each piece of vocabulary in a position worthy of its heritage.

 

From here we enter into the world of
Odin, bereft of his father, Jarl Borr, and having to take on responsibility for
the Wodenar tribe in a time of tension and factions amongst the Aesir. This is
not the Odin many have come to know as the monarch of Valhalla, this is an Odin
torn by grief and fuelled by revenge and youthful hubris. Odin’s journey is one
of tackling responsibility and it is with this thrust that Matt takes the
character we know and moulds him into a modern and relatable character. Odin is
stubborn, and lacking foresight, a man easily tempted by desire and most
certainly not a god. It is this Odin who in his mortal ignorance sets many
troubles into motion, finding that he has to make the choice between saving his
own family, or the families that rely upon him.

 

One aspect of this book I really
enjoyed beyond the consistent layering of mythology, was how the episodic
structure intertwined with the serialisation of the oncoming Ragnarok. In this
regard I also think it really nailed the sense that one receives from the great
tales of old; one of a great tapestry of interconnected tales. From Odin’s
encounter with Frost giants, to his escapades with the mist spirits, each
‘episode’ easily stands out within the mind, and yet cannot be separated from
the whole with each one driving the plot forward. I daren’t say much more for
fear of spoilers, but this was one of those rare occasions where one didn’t
spoil the other.

 

Of course, Odin is not the only
character worthy of note within this tale, nor even the most memorable. Indeed,
that honour should go to the aforementioned Loki, our terrible trickster who
slithers his serpentine way throughout. Like myself, one may come with their
preconceived notions defined by our foreknowledge of Loki’s ultimate embracing
of chaos and destruction. However, in this grim reimagining, Loki is a
character imbued with a sense of otherworldliness, his motives never entirely
clear.

 

In fact, I rather rooted for him for
most of the book, for he provides much assistance to Odin, whilst also holding
a silently looming presence over proceedings. It is within this playful silence
that one starts to suspect what his motives entirely are. Indeed, we see him at
certain points manipulating events, although the reason why is never clear. As
a reader this kept me on my toes because one could never quite be sure when he
would re-emerge. It was a deeply interesting contrast to have Odin as this very
human, emotionally raw figure, whilst Loki was endowed with this
otherworldliness that was more in line with what we might expect from an
ancient god. Going forward I for one will be keeping my eye on this devilish
deviant because clearly he has grander plans at play that may just decide the
fate of all.

 

Whilst these two are the central
characters, there is also a strong supporting cast to flesh things out. With
the wider Ragnarok story slowly building we have Sigyn who starts to draw the
details of the Ragnarok prophecies together. This was one of my favourite parts
of the book as I am a total sucker for characters diving deep into ancient
manuscripts with a foreboding sense of doom. Whilst outside of that plot Sigyn
is underutilised, I found that she was so effective in pushing that storyline
forward that it didn’t bother me too much.

 

Tyr is one of the sidekicks trying to
put some sense into Odin and keep the kingdom from the threat of invasion
whilst Odin is off playing Lara Croft on the whims of Idunn. His character kept
the political struggles of the clans alive, a major storyline from the very
start, and provides an dose of excitement in the climax. Whilst I do think that
the end of his storyline was rushed to provide some sense of resolution to this
initial book, the vast majority of his POVs were fun to read, and that’s what
matters to readers like myself.

 

Whilst the ending wasn’t as
satisfying as I would’ve hoped it to have been, and it felt like Matt was at
times struggling to pull threads together to provide some sort of ending to
events ( we do have 8 more books of this after all!), this was a very strong
debut from an creative author. To not just take ancient myth and legend and
retell, but to mould and shape it into his own narrative that truly humanises
the folks and beasts we encounter is no easy feat. Fans of fantasy new to these
myths, or scholars of old will find a lot of imagination and entertainment in
this twisty new take on the Ragnarok myths.

 

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