I'm a sucker for alternate history, especially when it involves Nazis (wow, that sounds bad...) or other aspects of World War II. I also have a minor interest in Norse and other mythology (a spillover from playing D&D back in the day). So when I came across this book about the Nazis winning WWII with the aid of the Norse pantheon, I had to read it. The story just drops you right into the mix, with a group of good-guy holdouts, aided by the one renegade Norse god (Loki, the trickster), on a kind of suicide commando mission in the 1960s. Basically, the background is that WWII was proceeding normally until D-Day, when the Norse gods pretty much wiped out the Allied invasion of Europe. The premise is that all that real-life Nazi fascination with the occult (popularly portrayed in Raiders of the Last Ark) comes to fruition and concentration camps are basically giant sacrificial abattoirs designed to maximize the number of souls offered to the deities. It's a clever concept that does a nice job of dovetailing real-life horror with fantastical elements.
However, the concept doesn't work so well in the execution. The first part of the book is pretty solid stuff, the reader is drawn in by the slowly unfolding background and premise, and there's plenty of action. This section is apparently based on Brin's 1986 short-story "Thor Meets Captain America" (which is available on his web site). The latter two-thirds of the book start to spin wildly out of control and become much less engaging. (Which is essentially the same problem I had with the final third of Birn's otherwise fun book Kiln People.) Basically, others around the world learn how to "raise" the gods through human sacrifice, and soon the world is enveloped in a kind of Battle Royale of the Gods. Before one has a chance to catch a breath, we have orgies of blood in Africa and Asia, as more and more soul-fed gods are raised. (One could make a case that the book is somewhat racist, in the sense that the only people who raise gods are Nazis, Africans, and Asians, while the forces of monotheism practice restraint. There's even a totally sappy scene in which the leaders of monotheism come together in brotherly unity to defend humanity.) This gets even more complicated when some plucky scientists reveal that someone is setting fire to oil fields all over the world. This leads into an even bigger storyline about the "cold gods" vs. the "hot gods", who are trying to use global warming to trigger a new ice age which will ensure their dominance.
Phew... and this doesn't even mention the Rebel Alliance -- I mean, the good guys' undersea base... or Loki's scheme to grow the Yggdrasil to evacuate his followers to outer space... or the crazy mechwarrior suit that the SS guy is given by the Allies. There's a lot crammed in and it just spirals out of control, until it just suddenly ends... Part of the book's problem is that each section is focused on a different protagonist, so there's no one to carry the story all the wy through. At the beginning it's an American soldier, in the middle it's an American weatherman, and then at the end it's a renegade SS man. This last person is around for the whole book, but not as the central figure. This lack of focus strips the story of any kind of figure for the reader to rally around. Brin attempts to add a little levity via some supporting characters, but it never feels organic or appropriate to the moment. For example, in part one there's a wise-ass hipster who speaks in beatniky slang -- as if that particular subculture would have evolved if WWII dragged on for 25 years! The book is also very heavy on telling the reader what's going on via lots of expository text crammed in, which never feels quite right.
Hampton's art is also pretty weak on the whole, especially when it comes to people and faces. There are a few nice panels here and there, like in part one, where Thor is shown throwing his hammer through five people in a shower of blood, but for the most part, the lines and coloring aren't compelling at all. It's not a terrible book, but it totally fails to live up to its potential. Part one is certainly solid, and there are a few nice set pieces further on (especially the jungle patrol in part two), but there are far too many missteps, and by the time we reach the dwarves and fairies at the end, one ceases to care. PS. Why is the circa 1960s Egyptian Army attacking en masse with swords?