Odd and the Frost Giants: A charming children’s story

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman fantasy book reviewsOdd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

There was a boy called Odd, and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. Odd meant tip of a blade, and it was a lucky name.

Neil Gaiman’s charming children’s story, Odd and the Frost Giants, opens with that bit of information. In spite of his name, Odd has not been very lucky lately. His father, a woodcutter, died during one of the village’s sea-raids. Later, Odd, trying to cut wood himself, badly injured his leg. Now he walks with a limp. His mother is remarried to a village man with many other children who does not care for Odd, and winter shows no signs of abating this year. One night, Odd slips out of the great hall, takes a side of salmon and one of his father’s axes, and runs away to his father’s woodcutting cottage in the wintery forest — and here, his adventure begins.

Gaiman introduces Norse mythology when Odd meets a fox, a bear and an eagle that are more than they seem. Soon, Odd is on a quest to free the stronghold of the gods, Asgard, from the frost giants. Odd must use his courage and his wits to help the three (it is quite obvious who they are from very early on). Odd is observant, and his awareness of the natural world allows him to, for instance, figure out a way to open the rainbow bridge that links Asgard to Midgard, our world. Odd’s most powerful weapon, though, is his smile. He has used it to baffle and confuse the village bullies, and that technique works just as well on gods and frost giants.

Without being preachy or too sugary, Gaiman gives us a young hero who uses his awareness, his wits and his ability to listen to overcome obstacles and defeat a dangerous adversary. Even though the story is short and simple, there are faint threads of trademark Gaiman darkness in it — like at the Asgard feast at the end.

Loki, who had to sit down at the far end of the table, was pleasant enough to everyone until he got drunk, and then, like a candle suddenly blowing out, he became unpleasant, and he said mean, foolish, unrepeatable things, and he leered at the Goddesses, and soon enough Thor and a large man with one hand, who Odd thought might have been called Tyr, were carrying Loki from the hall.

Another of Gaiman’s trademarks is his humor, and there is plenty of that here, also, whether it’s a casual sentence like, “There were no full-time Vikings back then. Everyone had another job,” and Odd’s observation later in the story, when he is riding on the back of the bear, that “I am just like one of the brave lords in my mother’s ballads. Only without the horse, the dog and the falcon.”

Odd is a very familiar Gaiman character, and the three bickering gods are familiar too, and none of that limited my enjoyment. I read a British edition of this book (Bloomsbury), enlivened with lovely pen and ink illustrations by Adam Stower. They added a dimension to the story. This is a book that wants to be read out loud, although an advanced young reader would certainly enjoy it. Kat’s review, here, is of the audiobook. I struggle with audiobooks but I might give this one a shot, just to hear Neil Gaiman read it to me.

Odd and the Frost Giants — (2008) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Odd’s luck has been bad so far. He lost his father on a Viking expedition, his foot was crushed beneath a tree, and the winter seems to be going on forever. But when Odd flees to the woods and releases a trapped bear, his luck begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox he encounters reveal they’re actually Nordic gods, trapped in animal form by the evil Frost Giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Can a twelve-year-old boy reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the Frost Giants and release the gods?

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MARION DEEDS is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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3 comments

  1. Brad Hawley /

    Oh, PLEASE listen to the audio book! Kat’s responsible for my giving audio books a chance. I generally had decided not to listen to them at all prior to my reading all her reviews. The main reason is because I get distracted if I’m not visually focused on words. My mind has so many dark places to go (which is one of the reasons I like to read to begin with!).

    BUT, Kat, and then Gaiman, changed all that. I’ve been listening to him read his short stories available through audible, and I decided my daughter, though perhaps not ready for the Graveyard Book, would want to hear him read. So we listened to the much tamer Odd. She loved it. I loved it.

    The next weekend, we were going somewhere, this time with my wife and seven-year-old son (who never stops talking. ever. wonder where he gets that from.) I asked my daughter, “Would you like to listen to Odd again?” She gave a resounding yes, and my son liked it so much, I didn’t hear the word Pokemon for two hours straight. A record.

    Now I’m listening to my favorite non-Sandman book written by Gaiman, and more importantly, read by Gaiman: Neverwhere. Amazing. I’ll be on to every other book he reads. The guy is a brilliant reader.

    When I read The Graveyard Book a year ago (I think), he had made available (either on his website and/or youtube) his readings at each of his stops on his book tour for Graveyard. He had a great idea: At the first stop, he read chapter one. At the next stop, he read chapter two. And so on. I think–I hope–you can watch him read the entire book with consistent brilliance and with the consistently-present black shirt and jacket (If I remember correctly).

    So, I agree, the book is a solid four stars. But the audio book makes it a five-star EXPERIENCE as far as I’m concerned.

    Thanks for the review.

    By the way Sandman fans, news is that Gaiman is working on one more Sandman tale, a pre-Sandman tale that explains how he ended up captured at the beginning of Issue #1. He’s also got a new book being released soon. So much Gaiman, so little time . . .

  2. Brad Hawley /

    I’ve read only a few collections of Ellison’s stories, but I loved them.

    Thanks to you, Kat, I now have an audible account and get 1 credit a month. It’s time to use that one credit. I think it’s Ellison time . . .

    Thanks for the recommendation.

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