All roads lead STRAIGHT TO HELL

And that hap­pens to be in Winnipeg in high-spir­ited fan­tasy ad­ven­ture

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Chris Rutkowski

‘DEATH to all those who whim­per and cry.” One of the best-known lines from the Bob Dy­lan clas­sic Tomb­stone Blues is com­pletely ap­pro­pri­ate for Win­nipeg­ger Chad­wick Ginther’s high-en­ergy fan­tasy ad­ven­ture of the same name. The sec­ond in the tril­ogy about re­luc­tant hero Ted Cal­lan that be­gan with Thun­der Road in 2012, this sat­is­fy­ing in­stal­ment finds him de­scend­ing lit­er­ally into hell, which just hap­pens to be in Winnipeg. In the first novel — which won the an­nual Mary Scorer Award for best book by a Manitoba publisher — our hap­less ev­ery­man ar­rives in Manitoba and is im­me­di­ately attacked by mys­te­ri­ous crea­tures who tat­too his en­tire body with odd sym­bols from an­cient Norse mythol­ogy. Cho­sen to pre­vent the re­turn of gods to Midgard — an old name for Earth — Ted was given su­per­strength, in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity, the abil­ity to in­voke light­ning, cure ill­ness and even throw Thor’s ham­mer that is mag­i­cally inked into his skin. But even those abil­i­ties al­most failed to save hu­man­ity when he bat­tled gi­ants and dwarves in Flin Flon in the first book. In Tomb­stone Blues, the fate of Winnipeg it­self is at stake, as the god­dess of the un­der­world Hel has her sights set on re­turn­ing to the liv­ing world. Thor him­self is at her side, cap­tive to Hel and miss­ing his ham­mer, now in the pos­ses­sion of Ted (this is not the Mar­vel universe ver­sion of Thor). Ac­com­pa­ny­ing Ted on his mis­sion is his girl­friend Tilda, one of three witch­like norns, who is griev­ing the mis­car­riage of their un­born child af­ter an eerie en­counter with four Valkyrie. Tilda has pre­scient vi­sions that seem to fore­tell cer­tain death for them all, but Ted isn’t one to back down from a fight. When Hel chooses to re­lease the dis­eases held in­side the Na­tional Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy Lab (“Who puts a virus lab in the mid­dle of a city?”), her Valkyrie at­tack is met head on by Ted and Tilda. And when Thor fi­nally ap­pears in Winnipeg, he gives Ted a sound beat­ing, re­gains his ham­mer, then starts “ren­o­va­tions” on the Manitoba Leg­is­la­ture that in­volve the shat­ter­ing of stat­ues and ed­i­fices. Many city land­marks area much the worse for wear by the end of Tomb­stone Blues. Al­though weak­ened and bruised, Ted re­al­izes he’s the only one who can send the gods back to where they came from. Armed only with a few mag­i­cal runes, bro­ken swords and his wits, Ted must save all of hu­man­ity by de­scend­ingd to the gates of Hell it­self, be­low the CN Sta­tion. But will he have the abil­ity and the time to de­feat death her­self be­fore Win­nipeg­gers suc­cumb to the mists of death and hope­less­ness waft­ing across Midgard? Dy­lan’s song is loaded with ref­er­ences to bib­li­cal char­ac­ters and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures that speak of death and de­spair, and Ginther invokes such im­ages in his story. Ted meets with the benev­o­lent and wise Vili and Ve, the “other brothers” of Odin, who as a trin­ity to­gether, cre­ated the world. Ginther’s mythos, bring­ing Norse gods and mag­i­cal crea­tures within Manitoba’s bor­ders, is com­plexly woven, with many ref­er­ences to ob­scure mythol­ogy that may make the reader scram­ble for the (thank­fully) de­tailed ap­pen­dix. His wise­crack­ing pro­tag­o­nist has enough self-doubt and in­tro­spec­tion to make him ap­peal­ing as an “or­di­nary” per­son thrust into very ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances. And nu­mer­ous ref­er­ences to Winnipeg, whether they be sym­pa­thetic por­tray­als of street peo­ple un­der the Os­borne Bridge, the spir­its of First World War sol­diers from Val­our Road, or cer­tain night­clubs that at­tract un­de­sir­able clien­tele, all al­low the reader to imag­ine the gods are in­deed alive and well in Manitoba. Chris Rutkowski is a writer who lives just out­side of Midgard in St. Nor­bert.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Ginther at The Forks, which in his world, is the cen­tre of hell.

Tomb­stone Blues By Chad­wick Ginther Raven­stone, 350

pages, $16

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