The hero’s quest is as much a staple of fantasy tales as both swords and sorcery. Basically, it involves the titular hero going on a journey. Along the way, the hero, along with a coterie of companions, will encounter many obstacles that will test the group’s resolve, but ideally they will prevail. It’s a formula that’s been duplicated in everything from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars: A New Hope. To be clear, just because a story uses a well-known trope like the hero’s journey doesn’t make it derivative. Largely, it depends on the individual creator to give it a unique spin. For Beware the Eye of Odin, written by Doug Wagner and drawn by Tim Odland, that unique spin involves Vikings and Norse mythology.
The particular hero on this journey is Helgi, a Viking prince who has recently come to possess the Eye of Odin, an actual eye on a chain. The problem is that Helgi must return the Eye to its proper owner by the new moon or suffer a death of “boils and decay.” Helgi is joined by Stigr, a one-armed blacksmith who swings an anvil on a chain, and Kadlin, a female swordswoman who says she’s a Valkyrie. On their journey, this group will encounter the tiny Hundrafolk, the stone-skinned Dwarven Smiths, and trolls that are larger and nastier than the adorable dolls with the multicolored hair.
Those familiar with the hero’s journey will see many of the same type of characters. Helgi is young and temperamental, Stigr is the mentor, and Kadlin, with her very one-sided conversations with a mouse, is the comic relief. Wagner, however, gives these different characters some subtle motivational nuances that help them stand out. Helgi wants to be a good leader and is also willing to sacrifice his life for his friends, Stigr is missing an arm, yet he wants to still feel useful in a warrior culture. And Kadlin? She . . . talks to a mouse, but she might also be a shieldmaiden who carries warriors to their final reward. These and other little touches get the readers invested in this adventure.
The visuals provided by Odland really draw the eye, particularly the creature design. The Hundrafolk look the part of fairy folk and the Dwarven Smiths are all made of stone, but still capable of emoting just as well as characters made from flesh and blood. The real creativity, however, lies in the design of the trolls, who are not only large but have various mutations that make them sprout extra limbs and heads. It’s not all whimsy, however, as Odland isn’t afraid to show these monsters getting bisected and decapitated in detail you’d expect to see in anatomy texts.
Does this story blaze any new trails and stand truly apart from its tropes? The path this story cuts is a well-trodden one, but Wagner’s characterizations and Odland’s illustrations help make this a fun adventure. While not a required purchase, this kind of book is perfect for young adult librarians with teen patrons who have already burned through every Rick Riordan and J. R. R. Tolkien book they have.
Beware the Eye of Odin
By Doug Wagner
Art by Tim Odland
Publisher Age Rating: 13 years and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)