What would your life be like if your name was Odd? Not an odd name, like Mistress Wafflebutter or Fishy McBaconfoot, but actually the name "Odd"? Neil Gaiman, author of instant classics like "Coraline" and "The Graveyard Book" (as well as many other amazing books for both older and younger readers), starts off with this simple premise in his new book "Odd and the Frost Giants" (HarperCollins).
Odd lives in a small village in Norway during the time of the Vikings, and although his name is considered lucky, he lives a fairly unlucky life. First his father dies in a sea raid, then an accident in the woods leaves him with a crushed leg and a permanent limp. Finally, his mother remarries an unfriendly man who has his own kids to worry about and no love of his new stepson. But things really get bad when something, well, odd happens to his village: spring fails to come when it's supposed to, and after weeks of cold and ice and snow, the townspeople turn mean and nasty. Little Odd, gifted (or perhaps cursed) with the sort of "I'm-smarter-than-you" grin that makes others want to thump him, retreats from the bullies to his dad's old woodcutting shed deep in the forest to live alone. Only he's not alone for long. Almost immediately he finds three companions, a fox, a bear, and a one-eyed eagle, that turn out to be anything but ordinary animals. This magical trio, who have problems that make Odd's life seem easy by comparison, inspire our hero to embark on an epic adventure that just might, if he's lucky, save his strange new friends, rescue an otherworldly realm from a giant menace (a menacing giant), and keep his village from perishing in an endless winter. Sounds cool, right?
We like "Odd and the Frost Giants." Quite a bit actually. It's weird, and funny, and written with a sense of simple fun that proves its author, a bestseller with an impressive list of awards, is still just a kid at heart. Odd is a character who is easy to root for, and his story is filled with moments of inspired magic, awesome adventure, and true bravery. The animal characters are pretty amazing too, with their own mysterious predicaments and goals, and the fox is so fascinating that he nearly steals the whole book from the title character. Like the best writers of fantasy for young readers, Gaiman does a great job of mixing the fantastic stuff, like talking animals and mountain-sized bad guys, with the stuff we can all relate to, like hometown bullies or the complications of living in a stepfamily. Odd is an odd kid, but in many ways he also a completely normal kid... like you, or any kid you know. Adding to all this fun are fanciful and smile-inspiring ink drawings by Brett Helquist, who illustrated the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Oh, and there's a pair of flying shoes, too.
The only problem we have with this book is that it's just too darned short, and with just 117 pages and rather large print, it takes just an hour or two to devour it whole. (Maybe that's a good thing if you're pressed for reading time.) We couldn't help feeling that this should really just be one chapter in a longer story, and by the final page, we were left wanting...needing...to know more about smart, smart-alecky Odd, and what happens to him next. Fortunately, Neil Gaiman's bio at the end of the book tells us that he "thinks there are more stories about Odd he would like to tell." Brilliant. Get writing, Mister Gaiman, and we'll get reading!
IML's Rating: A