Something about Valknut: The Binding felt very familiar. Not in the sense that I had read the story before; on the contrary, the premise and its plot are highly unique. You don’t often find Norse mythology, hobo culture, and a murder mystery tied together in one neat package. I felt more that the overall story had a familiar feel, as if it were informed by the same influences that have defined my own career. I also thought it could make a great episode of Supernatural or the X-files, so that could contribute to the feeling. In any case, it’s a good familiarity, like meeting an old friend after many years apart.
The characters of Valknut live their own lives. It’s a simple statement, but it’s one of praise. At no point did I feel the characters were anything other than themselves (with their own emotions), even as the plot dragged them to the conclusion. The protagonist, Lennie, is a young woman drawn into circumstances that she doesn’t understand by her quest to find her missing father. She meets “Junkyard” Doug, a hobo on a similar quest to find his brother’s murderer, the serial killer known as the Hobo Spider. They’re soon accompanied by “Jungle” Jim Tuttle. Jungle Jim was something of a difficult character for me. I liked him – a lot. He had a purity of spirit that rang true – when we see him lighting up everyone’s faces, it feels genuine. My only problem is that it kind of plays into the trope of “the Rainman”, wherein someone with a disability has another compensating benefit, typically one that is magical. I’ve seen it done so much that it needed a little something more. Unfortunately, I don’t think he quite overcame that, as much as I might have wished he would. While I think Jungle Jim is a great character, I had a bit of a pause at seeing this again that has stuck with me.
The story’s pace is great, with a few slow patches here and there. I found myself tearing through sections at a rapid pace, then slowing a bit when I’d hit a wall of exposition. Objectively, I’m not sure if this is my own problem or a problem with the work itself. I admit a preference for a balance leaning a bit more toward external action than internal processes, and the book walks a pretty fine line between the two. Ultimately, I think she handles it just fine, especially for Ms. Loughin’s intended audience.
Great plot. No other way to put it. Sure, it’s the story of the chosen one, but I’d be a hypocrite at this point to criticize that plot, and she manages to make it fresh by making Lennie something less than a messiah and savior and giving her latitude of freedom and surprising moves that escapes some of the constraints of the trope. I really wish the murder mystery subplot had been a bit more fleshed-out. I never really felt the menace of the Hobo Spider, and its conclusion felt a little rushed. Lennie’s quest for her father is satisfying, and stirred genuine emotion at its conclusion. Mixing these elements together made for a great, if not perfect, plot.
Overall, I recommend the book without hesitation. The characters and plot work well together, there’s a lot of scenery that I’ve really never seen in any other book (I now know what a hobo jungle is and looks like), and it kept me reading. The exploration of Norse Mythology is well-done, never going so deep as to drag the story down, but offering enough information to tantalize a reader into perhaps learning more about the subject. As I said, I think it would make a fantastic, smart episode of Supernatural or the X-Files, so if you like those series, dig in – I think you’ll like what you find.