The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon
|The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: Sometimes a book is so different from the norm that it's hard to know if one likes it or not. Here, the main character's sulky and sarky, enduring a situation which is utterly dire . . . and yet, you'll probably be glad you read her story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: May 2016|
|Publisher: Faber & Faber|
|External links: Author's website|
Hel is the ultimate gloomy, angst-ridden teen. Her dad's hardly ever around, her mum is at best indifferent to her, and her brothers are evil little beasts. She lives in a land of sleet and noise and ice. But that's not the worst of it. She has been, since birth, half human and half corpse, with all the accompanying odours that produces, and - wait for it – there'll never be an end to her misery because she's eternal. And you feel hard done by because you have to take the occasional exam?
So which is worse - living a whole life in low-level misery, shoulders hunched against the world as you stagger around on gangrenous legs hugging a grudge the size of Antarctica? Or being whisked away for a few brief moments of happiness, where the sweetest guy ever smiles at you and doesn't seem to even notice the stench of rotting flesh, just before you're condemned to rule forever in the fog-world of the dead? Not much of a choice, is it? Not that anyone asked Hel for her opinion, mind you.
After all this, you wouldn't exactly expect our heroine to be a cheery little soul, would you? Unlike the author's other stories based on Norse legends, which manage to find light-hearted moments in the midst of all the deadly peril, the tone here would make your average Goth seem positively upbeat. After a short time in the balmy groves of Asgard (not that time has any real meaning to the gods and goddesses who dwell there) she's been ripped away from her beloved Baldr (conveniently ignoring the fact that he has a wife and son), her guests are decomposing and there's a nasty little dragon nearby whose favourite snack treat is slow-roasted dead person. Okay, she gets to be queen, but that's hardly a plus in a place where nobody, but nobody, wants to be, including her.
So, in the world of teen and young adult literature, apparently still dominated by feisty heroines who rush about with bows and arrows, killing the baddies and the undead (or, alternatively, marrying them) Hel is absolutely unique. Her tongue is so sharp she actually does come close to some form of humour, and her plight has the grandeur and horror of tragedy. The language is that of a twenty-first century teen, yelling out of order and no fair at a world that doesn't care, and readers who enjoy the twists and turns of Norse mythology will derive real pleasure from this story. Just don't be misled by the author's name – Horrid Henry it ain't!
In some ways this book is linked to the author's other two Norse myth-stories, The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods, which are both very good indeed. However, they will probably appeal to younger readers, and they have a lightness of touch not evident here. Another book – or set of books, rather – which deals with the darker side of mythology is The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper, a justifiably well-known tale which, despite its age, is still a firm favourite. And for saga-lovers, there's also Slave Girl by Jackie French, not about the gods this time, but about a girl taken captive in a Viking raid. Stirring stuff!
You can read more book reviews or buy The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon at Amazon.com.
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