This piece originally appeared in the newsletter for the Manitoba Association of Library Technicians.
Writing about Thunder Road by bookseller-turned-novelist Chadwick Ginther presented a unique situation. In a past life, I was a bookseller for McNally Robinson and had the pleasure of working with Chadwick. He is, and remains, my ‘go-to geek’ on matters such as graphic novels or fantasy. I heard pieces of this novel during his time as Aqua Books Emerging Writer in Residence last year. He read two scenes from this novel with my interest begging for more. To encourage people to read the book, and frame this book talk, I reached back into memory. In 1987, I picked up a novel called Yarrow by a then-unknown fantasy author named Charles De Lint. It told the story of magic and mayhem in Ottawa, pulling back an urban landscape to interplay between good and even, with ordinary people caught in the middle. I didn’t know anything about the book, or its author, and simply plunked by money down to take a chance on the strangest of genres-a Canadian, urban fantasy novel. It highlights what I love about books namely the delight in taking a risk and having it pay off with a new author to watch.
Thunder Road opens its story with Ted Callan heading to Winnipeg with his life loaded into a GTO he nicknamed ‘The Goat’. Ted’s life exploded into pieces from his job to his marriage by an encounter with Sartur, a Norse entity known for its destructive ways. He heads to Winnipeg to begin a new life, picking up a beguiling hitchhiker named Tilda whose rune reading points to a life of heroism or death. When Ted decides to stay at a local Winnipeg hotel, one that sounds suspiciously like the Osbourne Village hotel, his life further changes as three dwarves tie him down ink him with magical tattoos. Already touched by the ‘nine worlds’ according to his pesky sidekick Loki, Ted now travels the Manitoba landscape looking for payback while reluctantly negotiating with his newfound power. In Chadwick Ginther’s world, the prairies are alive with the sounds, smells, and appearances of Norse mythology.
For Urban Fantasy readers, Thunder Road has all the markers of a tightly plotted tale. Every moment, even the quiet reflective ones, serve the story in some way. Nothing seemed wasted as audiences tag along with Ted and Tilda on the quest to find the dwarves. The novel reveals enough Norse mythology to inform a reader without bogging the story down in long exposition. For readers who enjoy the humour and character development of the Sookie Stackhouse novels or The Dresden Files will enjoy the latest Canadian edition to the Urban Fantasy landscape. The character of Loki especially stands out in with his bawdy humour, always taking pleasure at making jokes at Ted expense. The trickster never loses his ambiguity as he helps Ted on his quest, while making readers wonder if he really wants to help himself in the process.
Ginther spins a myth strictly for adults, right down to the salty language used in his narration and dialogue. In the context of the background of the main character and his setting, it’s sprinkled sparingly and fits with the blue-collar feel of the novel’s climax. The novel should fit right in at a public library, but for select older teens leaning toward the genre in any other setting. Thunder Road is book one in a proposed trilogy. Something tells me the nine worlds is not yet done with Ted Callan. The bigger question does Ted really want to be done with the nine worlds?