With the in-laws in town, there’s been some time when Mrs. Nat’s TV, the wee one, and the in-laws have all gone out, leaving me alone. The opportunity to lay on the couch and actually just read a book in the quiet comfort of my own home, that couldn’t be passed up. I may only have had time for a short book – there is much to be done – but it was lovely.
It helped, of course, that it was a good book. Odd and the Frost Giants is a juvenile from Neil Gaiman, created for World Book Day (a holiday not celebrated in the U.S., which I sure thought was part of the world — it involves publishers offering up interesting new books for youth for a low price.) Now, Neil is quite a capable storyteller, but the best of his book-length prose works so far was Coraline, another juvenile, so don’t let that descriptor put you off.
When the crippled son of a dead viking rescues a stuck bear, you’re likely to end up either with a very short story or a very big heroic adventure, and luckily for the reader, Neil chose the latter course. Neil is in comfortable territory for him, dealing with the often human-seeming foibles of supernatural beings (realms he has mined in much of his book-length prose and more than a little of his comics work), and he brings his key strengths – most notably, a sense that there is a logical structure to the worlds he depicts. The gods of mythology have clear emotional logic – they want things, and they do things to get what they want, and like most of us, their efforts can be understood by understanding what they want. Far too often in fantasy, particularly for the younger set, such concerns seem to be sloughed off. And in this case, the hero’s success (and it’s not really giving away anything to say that he has success – this is, after all, a juvenile adventure book) comes because he bothers understanding that these are beings who want something and bothers figuring out what they want.
It’s not a perfect book, there are one or two little missteps – there’s an unconvincing use of science (not in a “science doesn’t work that way” aspect, but in an “I don’t believe he would’ve known how to do that” sense), but they are not at crucial moments and are not crucial failures. Still, it’s one worth the reading time. It’s certainly worth the small amount of money the book sells for in the UK, it was worth the bigger-but-not-extravagant amount that it cost me to get it (the edition intended for this country won’t come out until October), and it will likely be worth your time to read it. (Or, if Neil is good enough to record this one, to listen to it; Neil is probably the best author I’ve heard when it comes to reading one’s own work for an audiobook.)
I followed up reading the book by watching Stardust last night, the rollicking film adaptation of the best of Neil’s not-intended-as-a-juvenile books. I’d seen it in the theater – something which is unfortunately true for far too few – but this fun film was well worth watching again, and was enjoyed by Mrs. Nat’s TV as well. And it is so good to see that people have not given up on Peter O’Toole; as a person likely near the end of his run but playing a man who still has strong character near the end of his run, he does quite well.