Norse Mythology Never Looked So Good: Odd and the Frost Giants Illustrated Edition…

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Odd and the Frost Giants by literary all-star Neil Gaiman was originally published in 2008 and made it onto my ever-growing TBR list round about the time I started blogging – so roughly four years ago.  In all that time though, I have never made any effort to actually get my hands on a copy and read it.

That is, until this stunning illustrated edition came along, courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia.

Perhaps it was the “come read me” expression on the giant eyeballs visible through the beautifully tactile cut-out cover, but Odd suddenly jumped straight to the head of my reading queue.  Before I get too caught up in the visual treat that this book provides,  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear . and then Odd’s destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods .

This rich and layered tale of courage is told with humour and in breathtaking style by two creators at the height of their powers: from the author of modern classics such as American Gods, Coraline and The Sleeper and the Spindle, Odd and the Frost Giants will leave you spellbound. Lavishly produced and packed with Chris Riddell’s glorious illustration enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.

I’m not going to lie to you.  I probably would never have bothered to hunt this book down and read it had it not been released in this gorgeous illustrated format.  I put so many books on my wishlist that unless there is something particularly special about a book (or unless I find it on special – ha ha ha), there are too many new books rushing into my consciousness to bother hunting down one I had a passing interest in a number of years back.

Having said that, there was absolutely no reason for me to be putting off picking this one up because it is a super-quick read, coming in at between 100 and 120 pages, depending on which edition you choose. The narrative style is that of the all-seeing narrator, with Gaiman’s signature quirky wit and there is no filler at all in the plot.  From the moment we meet Odd, all words are directed toward the adventure upon which he is about to embark.  The story itself isn’t anything earth-shattering, being a re-imagining of some aspects of Norse mythology, but it is fast and different and engaging enough to keep younger readers interested throughout.

The illustrations though, are something else.  It seems like Chris Riddell’s work is on every second book cover at the moment – deservedly so, because his style is so distinct – but I did feel a bit as though I was reading The Graveyard Book over again once I opened this one.  Odd and Bod are similar in name and looks, and I kept expecting Silas or some gravestones to pop up here or there!

In terms of presentation, this is a high quality offering.  I’ve already mentioned the cutout front cover design, which, apart from being delightfully chunky, makes for a great game of peekaboo for those of you who are into Instagram and the like:

bruce-and-odd

I think I look quite regal there…

The text is set out on plenty of white space and the glossy page finish makes the book feel a bit luxurious.  Every second page (or thereabouts) is adorned with a full-page illustration, like this:

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Every so often we are also treated to a double-page spread illustration like this:

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…so in terms of this being an “illustrated edition”, you are certainly getting plenty of bang for your hard-earned buck.  The large size of the book means that this is a perfect choice for gifting (for when you want to really impress and show a youngster of your acquaintance that books are cool presents after all), or for family read-alouds, where everyone can crowd around and appreciate the illustrations.

I would highly recommend this edition of Odd and the Frost Giants to readers who like having an experience, rather than just scanning words on a page.  The fable-like quality of the story and the calm, stoic nature of Odd are perfectly complimented by the bizarre characters of Bear, Fox and Eagle, who need the help of a human if they are to escape from the pickle in which they find themselves.  Apart from all that though, this is a book that you can absorb in just a few short sittings, so if, like me, you have had this one languishing on your TBR list for a while, bag yourself this gorgeous edition and jump right in.  You won’t be disappointed!

Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for providing us with a copy of the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Fairy Tale Makeovers: A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack…

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My fairy tale makeovers review series has been lagging a bit of late, so I am happy to present you with a fun little makeover of Jack and the Beanstalk for the early years crowd.  I gratefully received a copy A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce and the alliteratively named Kenny Callicut, from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, and was immediately drawn to the gorgeous colours and sweeping vistas of the illustrations.  There’s also an extremely underwhelmed Brahman bull that pops up here and there that had us all giggling from the get-go, so watch out for him!

a bean a stalk and a boy named jack

When drought hits the land, all the King’s subjects must line up to do their bit – their bit specifically being producing tears in order to provide water to wash the King’s stinky pinky toe.  After some slight interference from the King’s daughter and the Royal Wizard, a smallish boy and a smallish bean join forces to solve the problem of the stinky pinky, and return equilibrium to the kingdom.  When Jack (the smallish boy) plants Bean (the smallish bean), an oversized stalk erupts and delivers the unlikely pair to the crux of the problem – a (smallish) giant kid having a giant bath!  With a bit of friendly conversation and due consideration, the water problem is rectified and the King’s pinky becomes unstinky.  Cue bathing! Cue rejoicing! Cue…another fairy tale?!

**For some odd reason – it could be something to do with the writing – but I imagined this whole tale beginning to end read in a Brooklyn-ish accent.  It seemed to fit perfectly and really added to the experience for me, but you know, it’s just a suggestion. **

At 58 pages, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack, is a slightly longer than average picture book, but the engaging and colourful illustrations, many of them covering double page spreads, just suck you straight into the adventure.  The tale is narrated in a fun, laid-back tone, and while there’s no rhyme, there are plenty of repeated phrases for the young’uns to join in with.  The text is laid out in a combination of clear black type and colourful speech bubbles and this mixes things up and provides a bit of interest.

Jack is immediately likeable and Bean is possibly the cutest vegetable ever to grace the page and the remaining members of the  ensemble cast just seem to want to solve the stinky pinky problem and return the status quo.  There’s not a lot of wild adventure here – more of a meeting of like minds – but it’s definitely worth a look simply to appreciate the eye-catching art and gentle humour gracing the pages.  I especially liked the cheeky twist at the end of the tale which leads into another fairy tale (Jack, of course, being a common name in fairy tale circles), but I won’t spoil it for you.

If you are looking for a fun, relaxed twist on the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum that exchanges bone-grinding for hygienic bathing practices and water conservation, then this is the fairy tale makeover for you!  I must admit, paging through it again has sucked me straight back into the beautiful illustrations, so I’m going to sign off now and spend a few more moments giving my eyeballs a visual treat.  Don’t mind me.

*clears throat in preparation for Brooklynish accent*

A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack was released on October 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Blind Servitude: A Haiku Review of a Modern Day Fable (plus an Author Interview!)

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It’s Mad Martha with you today with a special treat! I have a sweet little indie title for your perusing pleasure, made all the sweeter for its having an Australian author (yippee!).  Stay tuned after my review to meet David Chattaway and find out the inspiration behind this engaging little tale.

Blind Servitude by David Chattaway follows the story of Eli, a young boy who, along with his family, has lived his whole life in an underground mine, toiling for an unseen overlord.  When Eli accidentally discovers a secret passage that may lead to freedom (or certain death!) he is excited to tell his family.  But at the same time Eli is uncovering the mine’s secrets, a siren is sounding elsewhere in the mine – a siren indicating that his mother will never be returning from her work shift.  When Eli’s brother and sister are abducted in the regular “harvest”, Eli is more determined than ever to get his father to listen to his plan to find the secret tunnel and see if it leads to escape.  Along the way, Eli will have to dodge the guards, particularly the sadistic “Savage”, evade the creepy “Shadow” lady and rely on his father, blind old Jeri and his mysterious, silent friend Peta in order to risk everything for a slim chance at freedom.

blind servitude

Dwelling in darkness

cage bars built from despair

Will hope find a way?

Blind Servitude is a reasonably short story that has a definite feel of the old-time fable about it.  Eli, the young boy at the centre of the story, is the unlikely hero, shifted from the complacency of his everyday life collecting and repairing tools for the workers by a desire for something more, something adventurous.  He alone has the courage to believe that his mother and siblings may not yet be lost to death, after his discovery of a tunnel that shouldn’t exist, given what the mine-dwellers have always been told.

The story unfolds fairly slowly, given the short length of the book, and this isn’t an action-packed adventure story by any means, despite the fact that there’s climbing and breaking and entering and pursuit by malevolent creatures all bound up in this small package.  Instead the suspense builds slowly, all the time reflecting Eli’s personal growth as he faces challenges that cause him to question everything he has ever known and chases after a slim hope that there could be something better awaiting all the mine-dwellers provided they are prepared to risk letting go of their unhappy, but predictable lives.

The characters aren’t particlarly developed as individuals, but each plays a significant role in Eli’s journey, particularly the guard whom Eli calls the Savage.  The Savage is almost the personification of the mine-dwellers’ misery, subjugating the people  through violence and threats in order to uphold a system that is unjust and ultimately unproductive for all but those at the top of the chain.

Overall this is an ethereal tale that will have you reflecting on the power of hope and the playing-off between risk and reward.

David Chattaway has kindly offered two readers (Australian residents ony) the chance to win a print copy of Blind Servitude.  To enter, simply click on the rafflecopter link below where you’ll find Ts & Cs.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Now it’s time to meet the generous and talented creator of this tale! Welcome, David, to the Shelf!

 

Blind Servitude is a thoroughly thought-provoking tome! Where did the inspiration for the book come from?

I wanted to write a story which was uplifting and had a positive message. It started as a very short story, focusing on a family’s desperation to escape an underground prison. Initially the story was far more science fiction with Aliens being the prison guards. As I began typing the story evolved and changed and I was left with a tale of a boys journey from darkness to light.
A lot of the characters seem to be flawed in one way or another – was this important to you when creating them and how does it impact on the way the story unfolds?
 
The story is about hope and overcoming adversity, but the characters are real and their situation is somewhat hopeless, especially at the beginning. I wanted the reader to relate to Eli, understanding the reasons that drive him to continue but also appreciating that he is challenging the nature of the world he had lived in.
Why did you choose Eli as your protagonist? Was it essential that he be young in order to accomplish his quest?
 
The story is dedicated to my Godson Eli and it was written for younger readers so I wanted to make the protagonist be young. One of the important aspects to this story is Eli convincing his father to believe his reasoning for escape and I felt that trusting someone young, especially when you’re almost blind and surrounded by danger was a message in itself. Eli represents the child in all of us, the innocent and trusting part which believes everything will be okay, that no matter how dark your life is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Who is the perfect reader for Blind Servitude and is there a particular message you’d like them to take away from the story?
 
The book is suitable for both young readers and the young at heart…
– Trust your instincts and believe in good prevailing. Seek the truth and never give up! That is the message of this book.
If you had to sum the book up in one sentence, how would you describe it?
 
Blind Servitude is the tale of a young boy’s journey to find his courage in a world where fear is used as a weapon and love is the only light.
Have you got any works in progress that we should watch out for and do you plan to feature gargoyles in any of your future writings?
 
I’ve completed the first draft of a paranormal fantasy novel named Mal’akh. It’s a story about Angels and Demons, good versus evil… it will be book one of a trilogy I have planned.

 

So there you have it.  You can find Blind Servitude on Goodreads here and for those whose literary appetite has been whetted, Bruce will be featuring another of David’s books on the blog in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.
Until we meet again, may the light of hope never be blown out,

Mad Martha

 

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