[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.
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.
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.