Neil Gaiman (writer). (Mark Buckingham, illustrator, UK edition),
and (Brett Helquist (illustrator, US edition), Odd and the Frost
Giants
(Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008; Harper, 2009)

This slim, whimsical YA novel is Neil Gaiman's contribution to World Book Day 2008, one of nine £1.00 children's books made available for this event. Though written for a younger audience, Odd and the Frost Giants is an entertaining read for adults as well, as it's intelligent and clever.

As the title suggests, Gaiman mines Norse mythology for his tale of a runaway Norwegian boy who saves his land from a perpetual winter brought about by a careless god. Odd -- whose name isn't terribly odd for his time -- is the son of a sometime Viking and a Scotswoman brought back from a raid. When his father is killed at sea, Odd attempts to take up his woodsman's axe, with disastrous results: he is permanently crippled. When his mother remarries, Odd finds himself truly the odd boy out, and during one particularly lingering winter, he sets off to their old cabin.

His first full day there, Odd has an strange encounter with an intelligent trio of animals -- a fox, a bear and an eagle -- who end up accompanying him back to the cabin. Awakened in the night by their talking(!), Odd discovers the animals are not quite what they seem. And they know why winter is refusing to leave: the Frost Giants have taken over Asgard.

Despite the animal's misgivings, Odd insists that they travel to the land of Asgard to set things aright. And so they travel to the land of the gods, where the boy drinks deep from the well of Mimir, confronts the Frost Giants and wins back Asgard for the Aesir. All by being clever (the same kind of cleverness that has made him an annoyance at home). He returns home to his grateful mother more of a man, spring coming in his wake.

Odd and the Frost Giants is a fast read at just 97 pages, some of which are wonderfully detailed black and white drawings by Mark Buckingham, who has collaborated with Gaiman before on various comic titles. (Brett Helquist provides equally delightful artwork for the US edition.) It's a delightful treat, though, as Gaiman's characterizations of the denizens of Norse mythology are sharp and witty (the Frost Giant's dismayed opinion of the lovely Freya's true personality is particularly amusing) and anyone who's ever felt out of place will identify with Odd's coming of age. To those familiar with the Norse gods, the tale is like a pleasant time spent with old friends. To those who are not, it's a great introduction to the mythos. And either way, it's a very fun read!

[April Gutierrez]