Valhalla Rising is an acceptable adventure novel if you’re flying somewhere and you don’t care how it ends before you land. There is nothing egregiously wrong with the book, such as grammar and spelling errors or poor writing. However, it is also a book that depends a lot on stereotype characterizations and remarkably mono-racial protagonists. Further, the logic of the plotting seems thin, with the main character, Dirk Pitt, bouncing from adventure to loosely connected adventure. It’s basically a hard-boiled detective novel set underwater.
But first, what is the plot?
Dirk Pitt, a marine engineer with inexplicable survival skills, is on a survey of a deep-sea trench when the research ship he is on responds to a cruise ship on fire. It turns out the cruise ship is on its maiden voyage with brand new state-of-the-art engines. The designer of the engines is on board for the voyage with his daughter. The ship is sabotaged, the engineer dies, and Dirk saves the daughter.
That’s part one.
In part two, the research vessel that Dirk was on is hijacked by pirates
But wait! Help arrives in the form of Clive Cussler himself!
Yes, Clive Cussler writes himself into the novel as a character who helps Dirk Pitt out of a hard moment. In fact, Cussler acts as a deus ex machina to save Pitt. It kind of cheapens the situation and rescue. From there, Cussler literally transports Dirk and Al to the next important action sequence in the book.
In an example of what makes me scratch my head about this story is that the novel starts off with a viking ship and a lovely little adventure with vikings. It’s a fine story and I really got into it. But it takes Cussler about 500 pages to finally come back to the vikings in the story. But there’s nothing in between about vikings or Norse history, almost as if there were two different novels that Cussler crammed together.
Dirk Pitt has kids! It feels like a bit of a retcon. There’s barely a mention of the woman who is the mother of the adult children. Maybe she showed up in an earlier novel, but there wasn’t enough emotional turmoil or reflection on Dirk’s part to make the event worthwhile. And Dirk really needed to have an infant, not adult children.
The writing is okay. It’s not powerful, flowery prose, but it’s not Robert B. Parker bad. When Cussler touches upon something that interests him in real life, he goes into great detail about it without as much style as the rest of the book. Like classic cars. When describing old vehicles, Cussler has a tendency to write with all the savoir faire of a Haynes manual.
When Cussler is in the pocket, his writing is crisp and active. Action is thrilling and maritime-set descriptions are suspenseful. The story can be enjoyably ridiculous. It’s an airport novel, the kind you buy in an airport convenience store for a long flight.
However, Cussler gives his characters stereotypical gender-based attributes. All the men admire Dirk Pitt and all the women act like they’ve never met a man. Even the artificial intelligence named Max and given a hologram form of a woman, acts like it wants to sleep with Dirk.
Ultimately, Cussler has written an okay adventure. It’s certainly understandable how he made a career out writing in this style, but it also feels like maybe I picked another off-quality title (as I did with Jim Butcher’s books) that requires me to read more of his work.
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