Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear … and then Odd's destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor's hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods … (Publisher's blurb)
When you see a new children's book that combines the talents of the amazing Neil Gaiman and Children's Laureate, artist Chris Riddell, you know you're in for something special. I have been lucky enough to read and review previous collaborations by these two, Fortunately, The Milk... and The Sleeper And The Spindle and there is no question in my mind that as creators they belong together. Each of them is excellent alone, but together? Something very special, strengthening the work of both.
Neil Gaiman has shown that he can write both for adults and children. And this is one you can confidently hand to the eight or nine year old in your life, or read to them. It has just a little bit of information about Norse society at the start, without making the young readers feel they're in the classroom - perhaps just enough for them to go and look up more. Odd's late father is only a part-time warrior, as are all the other Vikings; his day job is a woodcutter. In fact, Odd becomes crippled due to trying to use an axe that's too heavy for him. And his father didn't die in battle, he died on the way back, of cold and wet, after rescuing a packhorse fallen overboard. That adds a touch of reality to the fantasy world, in which you might wake up and hear animals talking without wondering, What the heck! and then find a way to Asgard, without thinking, Hey, I'm talking to Thor and Loki! There's humour, too, with the quarrelling gods, a bit of genuine Norse myth and Odd using his brains to solve the problem, not suddenly picking up an axe and wielding it. (Well, the ice giant is just a bit too big for that, even if he wasn't crippled).
Chris Riddell's artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, as always. He could make a living just from illustrating fairytale re-tellings, and be counted among the great fairytale illustrators.
Another book you will need to buy two copies of, if you are to part with one. My young nephew is getting this one when this review is up.
Buy it from the publisher's web site here. Or from Booktopia, here. In fact, you can buy it pretty much anywhere, including your local good bookshop, which will order it in for you if they don't have it. Why not try there first and keep bricks and mortar stores in business?