*This review will contain spoilers!*
‘I really hate children. They’re cruel, and they mock. I hate grown-ups too, of course. Actually, don’t get me started. I hate everyone.’
‘You’d think after my brother the snake was born they’d have stopped at one. But no.’
Rapidly introducing Jormungand and Fenrir, Hel’s voice is instantly snarky and bitter – the perfect tone for a girl who is born half dead.
‘Corpse baby. Carrion tot. The third monster.’
When Hel is born, she’s half dead.
Her bottom half, specifically.
Her legs are rotted flesh, putrid and decayed despite the fact that she’s less than a minute old. Her mother is distraught: having already given birth to a snake and a wolf she’d hoped it was going to be third time lucky. Loki, her father, thinks they should just finish her off.
Hel doesn’t have the easiest family situation.
When the Fates predict that Jormungand is going to kill Thor and Fenrir is going to kill Odin, the monstrous children are kidnapped and taken to Asgard. Jormungand is thrown into the Midgard sea. Fenrir is bound by magical means to a rock.
Hel? She gets thrown to Niflheim, commanded to become the Queen of the Underworld, host to all dead spirits.
Doesn’t that just sound like fun and games.
That’s not the worst part, though. When Hel was in Asgard, she met a god. She finally felt love.
All she wants is to be reunited with her beloved Baldr. But not even Hel can leave the Underworld, and gods don’t die…
After finishing this book, I found out that it’s the third book in a series, which baffles me. Widely advertised as Francesca Simon’s ‘first foray into teen’, why did she decide to switch target market? If you’re writing a middle grade series, commit to it being middle grade. Don’t suddenly try and branch out.
That being said, this read like a middle grade book. Yes, Hel is a teenager, but her attitude is far more childish than most teenage narrators. I can understand why she whines and complains – she is half dead, abandoned by her family who detested her, and despised by most of the living – but it’s more draining than anything I can remember reading before.
I really like Norse mythology, but hardly any backstory is given. This is probably due to it being the third installment, but with that fact being so under-acknowledged I can imagine a lot of people have been caught out in the same way.
I haven’t read anything focusing on the Norse gods for quite a while. I’m much more accustomed to the Marvel counterparts of Thor, Loki and Odin, and it took a lot of effort to readjust. I might have found things easier if Francesca wasn’t name-dropping seemingly irrelevant gods and goddesses on every page.
It’s obvious that Francesca is primarily a children’s author. I’ve commented on my apprehension towards author’s who write across multiple genres before, and this just justified my fears. Yes, some of the descriptions of Hel’s rotting body are gruesome, and I don’t think Loki’s sexual adventures could be as openly discussed in a middle grade novel, but everything screams that this isn’t teen. The instalove Hel feels towards Baldr is enough to turn off the majority of teen readers. Everyone I know is tired of attraction starting that fast, but it’s made worse when you find out Baldr is married. Hel acts like a child in the middle of a temper tantrum to control him and try and make him hers, and it made me uncomfortable and irritated in equal measure.
Then there’s the fact that Hel feels much better when she’s given lip gloss. WHAT?! Seriously? She’s been wallowing for years – possibly hundreds upon thousands of them – and a human gives her lip gloss and suddenly joy returns to her world. GROAN.
To make matters even worse, the actions starts right before the book ends. There’s finally the opportunity for some plot, rather than repetitive and irritating teenage rambling, but then the book ends. I genuinely felt like crying when I got to the last page: out of sheer frustration, not from any kind of emotion.
I only read this book because it’s on the YA Book Prize shortlist, and I innately knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it.
Thankfully it’s a quick read. It’s just under 300 pages, but it’s filled with illustrated letters at the start of each chapter. Those take up a lot of room, meaning a lot of the pages have hardly any text on them, and if I’d been enjoying this more I would have flown through it in one sitting. As it is it only took me two attempts to get it finished, but there was a lot of eye-rolling and groaning throughout.
I’m always going to wonder if I’d have felt differently towards this installment if I had actually read the first two books in the series first, but I have no inclination to pick them up now.