GUEST REVIEW: Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: A short but good story which the book’s target audience will love.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The lame son of a Viking woodcrafter quests for an end to an endless winter. To his surprise, he discovers a trio of talking animals, who claim to be Odin, Thor, and Loki of the Norse legends. The only problem, they’ve been thrown out of Asgard, and if they don’t return the world dies in cold and snow.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A fun, quick read. Kids will love the story, while adult readers of Gaiman’s earlier works will enjoy the return of some familiar mythological characters.

CONS: The story is only novelette length, but the hardback book costs an outrageous $14.99. Way too much money for what is a good but not great story.

BOTTOM LINE: Anyone who likes Gaiman’s stories will like this story. But consider waiting for the paperback edition, or buy the cheaper Kindle edition.


Earlier this year my oldest son voiced a serious complaint: “Dad, there are no books I like to read.”

Now by books, he meant novels. And by novels, he meant something fun which would hold his attention until his father tore the book from his grasping hands and yelled to go to sleep, it’s almost midnight for Pete’s sake! At least, that’s how I remember falling in love with novels when I was his age.

So I looked through the books he’d been reading during fourth grade. Lots of middle-grade fantasy series which, while making the best-seller lists, weren’t exactly genre classics and appeared to be piggybacking on the success of Harry Potter. When I asked what was wrong with these books, my son said nothing exciting happened. Fearing my son might lose his love of reading if he kept having bad books shoved down his throat, I pulled out the heavy artillery: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

My son loved the book. Said it was the best book he’d ever read.

He then read Coraline, and also loved it. Said it was better than the movie, which surprised him because he didn’t know books could really be better than the movies. “I thought that was just something parents said.”

Thanks to Gaiman, my son discovered the type of books he loves and has been reading like crazy. So when it came time to review Gaiman’s newest book for kids, I couldn’t do this review without asking my son for his opinion.

Gaiman wrote Odd and the Frost Giants as part of World Book Day in the United Kingdom, and it is just now being released in the U.S. At barely 14,000 words in length, this story is firmly in novelette land, meaning it is on the thin size for a hardback costing $14.99. In fact, if my son hadn’t been so insistent on us buying it, I would have passed right along, despite owning almost every other Gaiman book in existence.

As befitting the book’s length, I finished the story in one evening. It’s a fun tale of a twelve-year-old boy named Odd, who is the lame son of a Viking woodcrafter and his Scottish wife. Set in the age of Viking raids, the story has Odd leaving the limited life of his village to discover why this year’s winter won’t end. In short order he discovers a talking eagle, bear, and fox, who claim to be the gods Odin, Thor and Loki, all of whom have been thrown out of Asgard by a Frost Giant. If they can’t find a way to reclaim their kingdom, Odd’s world will die under the white cold of an endless winter.

I enjoyed this novel, and especially liked seeing the return of Gaiman’s interpretation of Odin, Thor, and Loki. Since this is a story for younger readers, these gods aren’t as saucy as when Gaiman previously cast them in his Sandman graphic novel series. But their lusty undercurrents are still there, and they seem as alive and witty as ever.

In addition, Odd is a sympathetic main character, and his quest is both realistic and endearing. That said, this novel didn’t strike me on the same level as Gaiman’s greatest books. While it’s a good story, it’s not great.

Of course, my son would dispute this assessment, and since he’s fully within the target age for the book, I’d suggest taking his view over mine. In describing Odd and the Frost Giants, he repeatedly used the word “brilliant” and said this was one of the best books he has ever read. Almost as good as The Graveyard Book, and equally as good as Coraline.

So there you have it. I’d recommend this book to Gaiman fans, while my son says every kid must read this book. But either way, I’d suggest waiting for the paperback edition or buying the cheaper Kindle edition. Because, dang it, $14.99 is simply too much for a story this short.

7 thoughts on “GUEST REVIEW: Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman”

  1. Paperback is already available in the UK. Our son, but Sword and Sorcery literate – aged 5 – loved it.

    The problem with much fantasy aimed at young listerners/readers is that it’s either tongue in cheek, with stupid names for the characters, and/or about yet another dis-empowered young person. Sometimes boys want to enjoy the tropes without playing them for laughs, and hear/read about men doing manly things, like wading through a battle, sword in hand.

    He’s already hooked on the WWI Biggles stories, but was yearning for something like the Hobbit but with more fighting. Out of desperation, I started reading Conan stories, expurgating as I went (skipping racial rants and references to woman stealingh and brothels, mostly). It worked, but really most of them hinge on very age inappropriate themes, so I can’t take that further.

    I asked around, and somebody pointed me to the Dragonlance Young Chronicles. The first one is going down very well, though I had to bowlderise the origins of the half elf character, who’s mum was raped by a human soldier; 5 is a bit early to come to terms with sexual violence.

    I just wish somebody would write good simple non-ironic adventure stories for boys, but about adutl characters.

     

     

     

  2.  

    The primary stumbling block for me in reading YA fiction is the overwhelming dominance of the coming-of-age theme. When I was a kid I mostly read books about adult characters.

    There’s a belief among the authors and publishers that kids only want to read stories with characters they can “relate” to. What’s wrong with reading books with adult characters that kids can look up to and aspire to be like?

  3. Zornhau,

    Have you tried the “Adventure” series by Willard Price for your 5 year old son?  They’re not SF & F (so sorry if that offends anyone here – I would have mailed you off-site but I don’t see a contact on your page), but they are great adventure books.  They might be a little bit dated now, but they are being re-released as of about 2005 I think.  I loved them as a kid.

  4. You seem to enjoy the book and you admit that your son, the target market for this book, thought the book was brilliant. You only gave the book 3 and half stars though. I can only judge that you did so because of your dislike of the price from your review.

    The author has no control of how his book is marketed or priced. Shouldn’t your review be judge of the work alone and not also a critque of the price as well. I can’t help but feel you marked this book done atleast one half to one full star over your feelings on the price. Why hold that against the author. When the book comes out one day in a cheaper paperback format will you then think about changing your review?

    I’d give a 4 out of 5 stars based on the story alone.

  5. The price didn’t factor into the rating. As I said in the review, this was a good not great book from an author who is usually known for great books. Hence 3.5 stars was warranted–the story is better than a mid-range 3 stars, but not at the level of a 4 or 5, which I’d reserve for very good and great books respectively.

    Of course, the caveat to this review was, as I said, my son thought the book was brilliant. Since he’s in the target age group, kids should probably listen to him instead of me. But as someone who has read every Gaiman story there is, and is offering this review on an SF site for adults where adults are the ones reading my words, the simply fact is this isn’t his best work.

    That said, while the price didn’t affect the rating, it does factor in when I suggest which edition of the book people purchase.

  6. Out of desperation, I started reading Conan stories, expurgating as I went (skipping racial rants and references to woman stealingh and brothels, mostly).

    Yes, how DARE Howard write of racial and national xenophobia and the secondary status of women taking place in a fictional pre-industrial society, when he should quite clearly be writing of an unrealistic egalitarian wonderland where women are anachronistically equal and there is no conflict on the basis of nationality or ethnicity, going against just about every preindustrial society in history.  The nerve of the guy.

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