On the frozen shores of Sweden, lightning strikes from a clear sky. The skeleton of a huge man is revealed, its fingers clutched around the handle of an iron hammer. No one who comes to see this marvel from Norse mythology can lift it—no one but Hellboy, who lifts the hammer just in time for lightning to strike again, welding it to his hand and leading him towards a bizarre series of visions and encounters.
The Bones of Giants by Christopher Golden is the second Hellboy novel, written with the creator of the character and comic book series Mike Mignola, who also provided illustrations. There was always something about this book that appealed to me more than its predecessor The Lost Army. I did enjoy that book, but it felt fairly garden variety as far as Hellboy stories go. This second novel sported Hellboy on the cover wielding what is in fact Mjollnir, the legendary weapon of the Norse god Thor, promising something a little different for the world’s greatest paranormal investigator, who typically deals with less divine forms of the otherworldly.
In the early stages of this novel circumstances were mysterious in a way that I really liked. We’re presented with an immediate, tangible problem in the giant corpse and the hammer being fused to Hellboy’s hand, before he is led by it to a recently uncovered chamber with something important missing. It created a good sense of urgency that still allowed for more quiet moments of the characters trying to piece things together. I enjoyed getting into the characters heads here, especially in moments of political tension around the discovered artifacts, what Hellboy is doing with them, and the implications of their existence.
Hellboy has fought all manner of myths and monsters before and since this book, but this is the first time a full pantheon of gods has really been acknowledged (that I can recall), and it’s a bit of bombshell even for the characters. In other encounters with gods in this series they’re usually connected to more eldritch forces or they’re demons misleading humans by pretending to be gods. Early on the implications are clear that this is legitimately Thor’s hammer and I enjoyed how the characters had trouble coming to terms with that. By all accounts it seems that the world of Norse mythology did exist, but Ragnarok came and went and most of all these beings died with its conclusion. I liked how this expanded upon Hellboy’s world and made the whole endeavor more poignant.
Mjollnir’s attachment to Hellboy brings the spirit of Thor along with it, who inhabits and sometimes controls his body. This created an intriguing internal struggle in Hellboy’s side of the story, as Thor’s berserker rage, impatience for others, and lust for battle clashed with Hellboy’s less self-serious approach to engaging his foes. The only regrettable thing about this part of the story is that I wish it were explored in more depth, instead of narration retreading the same idea over and over. You can only hear about the hammer’s influence making Hellboy uneasy so many times, before the lack of meaningful consequences robs it of its teeth.
This type of repetitive writing actually held the novel back a lot for me, especially concerning Abe and their new companion Pernilla Aickman—the daughter of Edmond Aickman who first appeared in the story “King Vold” in The Right Hand of Doom. The story meandered a lot, particularly in moments where the characters showed internal concern for one another. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, except it seemed to happen at nearly every opportunity with little changing between each reflection. Abe and Pernilla also developed intimate feelings for one another over the course of the story, though whether platonic or romantic remained unclear. The story would dwell on small gestures, thoughts, and impressions they had of one another repeatedly, yet it all amounted to nothing. By the end it felt like a lot of wasted time.
That’s not to say the story was without its excitement. There were many compelling moments of action as they faced off against dark elves, monstrous wolves, and undead giants, as well as flashes back to Thor’s battles during Ragnarok. When there were pressing matters on hand, even outside of combat, things got a lot more interesting and/or fun. There were elements of horror peppered throughout too, depicting grisly scenes of tearing flesh, withered husks, and frozen bodies, serving as an appropriately grim reminder that for all his lovable gruffness Hellboy’s world can be a horrific place.
I don’t think The Bones of Giants ends up being any worse than its predecessor, but I cannot help being a little disappointed with it. I love the lore it introduces into the world of Hellboy, painting the gods and beings of Norse mythology in a bittersweet light as part of an age long dead and buried, with a few revenants that need to be squashed before they can get a firm grip back on the world. I was also intrigued by Mjollnir’s possession of Hellboy, though I feel some potential was wasted there. The action was fun too, I just can’t get past the repetitive writing for the characters during the plot’s slower moments. They made what should have been a quick read feel like a chore to pick up.
My rating: 3 out of 5