Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

All roads lead STRAIGHT TO HELL

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

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2One 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 super-strength, 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 are 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 descending 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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 A1

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