Agent of Hel series, Jacqueline Carey

The backstory for the Agent of Hel series is that Niflheim, home of Helheim and the underworld ice-goddess Hel and her dog Fenrir, also popular in 1980’s Marvel comics, is now in Wisconsin. A big chunk of the North country is Hel’s territory as far as secret magical things go. Newly chosen to represent Hel is a sweet, charming 20-something woman who doesn’t really understand her job. She’s supposed to resolve disputes and in general make sure nothing supernatural bothers Hel. Despite this all being Norse myth, we get the usual hodge-podge of non-Norse monsters.

As you’d guess, she’s bad with boyfriends and extremely insecure, especially that she’s just faking her new adulthood. She doesn’t really have any powers except for her “Agent of Hel” badge, but is secretly a half-demon (Norse mythology doesn’t have demons, but whatever.) The town is pretty much Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. Lots of friendly people, many of whom know magic and are glad to help; or brew tea; or just talk since everyone knows everyone else.

We get a lovely minor plot involving a misunderstood “Monsters Inc” type creature which is supposed to be harmlessly frightening kids. We get another which takes lots of careful listening to witnesses, help from her friends, and having to trust a guy with whom her relationship may be going too fast. The main plot gets violent near the end — big rockets, mercenaries, and an exploding giant monster — but it’s really the result of an argument between the bad guy (the bad woman, it turns out) and her husband, which our heroine helps smooth out.

Something that snuck up on me: Hel has given her a unique magical relic dagger. She just tucks it away. Much later, she realizes it’s meant to be flashed like a badge. It never occurs to her that she could, you know, stab people with it, since violence never solved anything.