Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Ill. by Chris Riddell. Bloomsbury, 2016. ISBN 9781408870600
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Fantasy. Myths. The story, first published in 2009 and a World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novella, has been given a new face with the fabulous illustrations by Chris Riddell. Odd, whose name means tip of a blade, is left fatherless when his Viking father dies after a raid. His mother remarries but his step-father and step siblings don't want a boy who is a cripple around. One winter that doesn't want to end sees Odd fleeing to the forest and the old woodcutter's hut that his father once used. There he encounters a fox who leads him to a bear that has become trapped while trying to gather honey. Overhead an eagle has hovered watching what was going on. Odd becomes aware that the trio are Norse gods, who have been trapped in their animal forms by the frost giants who have taken over Asgard the city of the gods. Odd goes on an epic journey to find Thor's hammer and overcome the frost giants all the while carrying a wooden sculpture that his father had left behind.
The narrative flows along and keeps the reader engrossed in the tale of Odd, who is a most engaging young man and whose courage in the face of danger and disability is as strong as his resilience and kind heart. The legendary figures of Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya are fascinating and readers will laugh at Loki's antics and smile at the Riddell's illustrations which make them seem life like. The knowledge that Odd's mother had been taken from Scotland by his father and that she had always sung songs in her own language, provides a theme that readers will want to pursue and makes the ending all the more poignant.
The black and white pencil drawings are stunning. The front cover shows Frey, a frost giant and Odd, with a fabulous cut out of icicles and when the reader opens it up there is the strange face of a frost giant. The illustrations of the transformation of Odd from a young boy to a tall young man and the three gods to their proper forms are wonderful and readers will want to pore over them.
This is a story that begs to be read again and again for its approach to adventure, Norse myths and Vikings, while the illustrations ensure that it will be a keeper for families and in libraries.