© Neil Gaiman, illustration © Brett Helquist.
Neil wrote this short novel a while ago, and it was published last year in Britain as part of a fund-raising event, World Book Day, which promotes reading and books for children. Just out is this first U.S. edition, a small hardcover with new illustrations in pencil (and a painted cover) by Brett Helquist.
Odd is a boy in a Norse village, where a group of Vikings spend time with their families, on their farms and holdings, when not at sea on Viking raids. Odd’s father died in such an expedition, and while trying to fill his father’s role and cut wood for his mother, Odd had an accident that badly crippled his leg. That meant Odd wouldn’t be able to join the men of the village when he grew up, and prospects for he and his mother look grim. To make matters worse, they’re all trapped in a winter that never seems to end, and the entire village is nervous and grumpy. Odd decides to get away from all these troubles on a private expedition into the woods to his father’s cabin. There he encounters three animals; a fox a bear and an eagle, who seem to take a great interest in Odd…and he discovers they are no ordinary animals when the bear slips up and starts to talk!
Thus begins a charming adventure story in which Odd uses his wits and bravery to travel with the three animals to the home of the Norse gods, facing great danger and tackling a formidable task that even the gods themselves despair of: getting rid of the Frost Giants that have overtaken Asgard.
Neil is in best form in this delightful story, one can almost hear him reading it, and it has a wide range of wonders, real humor, and wonderful characters that leap into reality in a matter of a few words. The illustrations by Helquist are equally delightful, and a perfect fit for the text. Despite the length at about 120 pages, it’s a book that rewards the reader with a satisfying amount of adventure and knowledge as well as good writing. It’s been said that many long books have been written by writers who don’t have the skill to write short ones. Neil Gaiman is not one of those writers.
Highly recommended. And don’t forget to read the author’s bio on the last page.