Chadwick Ginther, Tombstone Blues (Winnipeg, MB: Ravenstone, 2013). 416 pages, $16.00.
A little Norse on the prairies? One would think Norse culture and prairie culture have little in common. Yet Tombstone Blues, the latest novel by Norse mythology enthusiast Chadwick Ginther, brings them together. Tombstone Blues is the sequel to Ginther’s debut fantasy fiction novel Thunder Road. Mythology meets the Canadian prairies once again in this epic fantasy adventure.
After a cryptic prologue hinting that trouble is brewing thick and deadly in Niflheim, land of the dead, Ginther takes a running leap into the first chapter. In Thunder Road, Ted Callan is forcefully tattooed with Norse runes by dwarves and unwillingly bequeathed with the powers of Thor, the thunder god.
Here, Callan finds himself back in Winnipeg, Manitoba, hunting down a pack of elves, or álfar, who have thieved memories from his tattoo-artist friend Robin. Callan barely has time to breathe before he must face down valkyries, handmaidens to their mistress Hel, goddess of the dead. And when Thor himself rises from the underworld to take back his mighty hammer, Ted finds himself truly helpless to prevent catastrophe. Already accustomed to his godlike powers, Ted must get the hammer back before Thor can open a gateway for Hel’s army to invade unsuspecting Winnipeg.
With long waits between novel releases in serials, it is always an author’s challenge to pull readers back into the story. However, Ginther helpfully intersperses necessary recap information within the continuing story to bring his readers back up to speed without erring on the side of excessive monologue. Ginther has a Bardic authorial voice that aids in weaving a tale of stunning imagery and fast-paced action.
To Ginther’s credit, Ted is more than a copycat Marvel comic Hulk, problem solving with his fist rather than his head. Ginther knows there is only so much that can be achieved by a good pounding. When his favourite negotiator tool, the “Thor Hammer” tattooed into his fist, is taken away by the powerful demi god himself, Ted must learn to use his wits rather than brute force to outsmart the enemy.
Ginther’s authorial forays into the unbelievable areoffered compellingly. He is comfortable in the realm of the supernatural and at ease with pacey plot developments. Ginther also offers helpful entryways into Norse mythology that avoid dull textbook recitation. When Ted tries to explain the significance of the ravens Huginn and Muninn to his friends, which mythology
claims are the embodiments of Thought and Memory, his friends struggle to accept the outlandish concept. “‘They [the ravens] live in your tattoos and they talk to you?’ Aiko demanded, incredulous. ‘Your boyfriend just killed an elf. You need to get over the talking birds.’” Ginther’s playfulness and enthusiasm for the subject are infectious.
Tombstone Blues is a delightful Norse-on-the-prairies adventure. With such precedents, readers can only expect his final installment in the larger-than-life epic fantasy adventure series to be as engaging.
Kerri Unruh is an aspiring fantasy fiction writer in Steinbach, Manitoba. When her nose isn’t buried in a book, her mind is in the clouds dreaming of dragons and adventures.