The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

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The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Freya's England is much the same as ours, except that people still worship the old Norse and Anglo-Saxon Gods. Feeling bored as she waits for her father to finish his shift at the British Museum one evening, Freya blows the ceremonial horn which stands behind the Lewis Chessmen, and suddenly she finds herself being frogmarched to Asgard. She is in BIG trouble.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Faber/Profile
ISBN: 978-1846682780

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

When Francesca Simon was invited to write about anything she liked, she decided to put the Lewis chessmen at the centre of an adventure. They have long fascinated her, and she has always wondered why they look so glum and worried. Add to this the fact (which she admitted in a recent interview for the Guardian) that if she were left alone in the British Museum she would want to touch everything, pick up everything and generally run amok (rather like that naughty Loki the Trickster, not to mention an equally horrid young boy called Henry . . .) and the seeds of her story were sown.

Freya is an ordinary girl who goes to school, hates the fact that her squabbling parents have divorced, and feels lost without a phone signal. The one big difference in her life is that Wodenism is the state religion, while Christianity is only remembered as one of the many exotic religious cults which sprang up during the Roman Empire. Most Europeans are pagan, time is dated from Woden's birth, and that famous sculpture is called, delightfully, the Valkyrie of the North. Just like in this world, many people have stopped believing in the Gods, and Freya herself wonders if they exist, because people never see them. But that's not a wise thing to discuss with a mother who spends her time preaching in her own Fane and running phone campaigns to maintain neglected crossroads shrines.

Freya's father has mixed up the nights he's supposed to have her over, yet again, so instead of curling up on the sofa at his home with a take-away, she finds herself stuck in the British Museum, where he works as a night guard. She's bored and fed up, and the beautiful horn is just sitting there beside the gloomy chessmen: who could resist giving it just a little blow? And there begins an extraordinary adventure. Unknown to her, the chessmen are Woden's best warriors, frozen in time until they are needed to rescue the gods, and the horn is the signal to summon them.

But . . . things don't go quite according to plan. Only three chessmen awaken, and they're hardly the most useful: a brother and sister not much older than herself who squabble constantly, and a berserk called Snot whose only battle plan is to kill everything that moves, and who writes truly awful poetry. And when they get to Asgard they find that the Gods have aged and are close to death. Freya and her companions have nine days to rescue Idunn, goddess of youth, from the giant Thjazi. If they fail, they will all, Freya included, become ivory chessmen and sit forever in the museum. As Alfi says, spending centuries listening to tourists asking where the toilets are in twenty-six languages is not a lot of fun.

This book may have a similar premise to many others — an ordinary person sent to a strange world to complete a quest — but what is charmingly different here is that Freya remains stubbornly ordinary. She doesn't develop supernatural powers, although Odin does give her a really handy little feather, and she freely admits her idea of adventure is trying a new vegetable. Her reaction when she finds herself on Bifrost, the rainbow bridge to Asgard, is to simply throw up, and she begins her quest protesting loudly as Snot slings her over his shoulder and marches off to the giant's mountain home. There is much humour in the story to lighten the scary thrills, and even a few really gross-out moments, like the giant who tries to drown them in pee. Young readers will love it.

Special mention must be made of the delightful illustrations by Adam Stower: his cover is extremely attractive, and the designs which begin each chapter are equally striking.

Many thanks to Faber and Profile Books for sending this excellent story to Bookbag – we look forward to further adventures with Freya and her companions.

Further reading suggestion: For another exciting adventure which starts in the British Museum and ends up in another world, try Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins. The language and the plot are more complex, but it's a lot of fun!

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Buy The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon at

Booklists.jpg The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2013.


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