Children's & Middle Grade · Fantasy

Review: Frostborn by Lou Anders

Let’s trace this back a little ways, shall we? Lou Anders presented to Science Fiction & Politics class nearly a year ago. I think it’s fair to say he was the highlight of an already great class. Much of his presentation was devoted to the structure of movies, based in part on the book My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, (which I’ll be discussing further in a novel update next week). Then he gave us the option of hearing about the publishing world or hearing about his book-in-progress, Thrones & Bones: Frostborn. The class overwhelmingly voted for book-in-progress, and we were treated to 30-40 minutes of teaser. It was really interesting stuff from a writing/publishing point of view, and I think every one of us would’ve bought the book right then, had it been available. But it wouldn’t come out until August 2014. Sooo, I followed Lou Anders on Facebook, and kept my beady little eyes trained on August 2014. And I went to the launch party and got a book signed and it was super fun!

So, what I’m saying is, I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time.

Was it as awesome as I hoped? Categorically YES. (And I should stress that I bought the book myself, Lou Anders probably has no idea who I am, and all the praise you’re about to hear is entirely my own!)

Frostborn cover

Thrones and Bones is a middle-grade fantasy series based on Norse mythology. Here’s the description:

Meet Karn. He is destined to take over the family farm in Norrøngard. His only problem? He’d rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones. Enter Thianna. Half human, half frost giantess. She’s too tall to blend in with other humans but too short to be taken seriously as a giant. When family intrigues force Karn and Thianna to flee into the wilderness, they have to keep their sense of humor and their wits about them. But survival can be challenging when you’re being chased by a 1,500-year-old dragon, Helltoppr the undead warrior and his undead minions, an evil uncle, wyverns, and an assortment of trolls and giants.

Frostborn is advantageously placed in a trend of interest in Norse mythology and things involving ice, what with Thor, the Loki craze (Marvel version and otherwise), and Frozen. It’s similar enough to those things to make a good recommendation — it’s similar enough to The Hobbit to make a good recommendation! — but as with all the best books for kids, it’s full of substance, and it has a flavor all its own. It’s well-written and well-plotted. It’s clear what’s happening and accessible for those who are just getting into longer books, but it’s complex enough to get your teeth into. It’s light and fun, but it has serious themes about acceptance, family, and loyalty (both when you should have it and when you shouldn’t). None of those themes are driven in with a sledgehammer, they’re just there if you wanna talk about them.

My favorite thing is how the book is explicitly for both boys and girls, not just a “boy book” that girls will also like. Karn and Thianna always get equal billing, and they’re always equally important. They’re both fully-formed characters with their own needs, desires, skills, and agency. They both change and develop over the course of the novel. They both have presence of mind, for which I’m deeply grateful in a world full of novels about clueless idiots. Plus, there’s no expectation that “Karn is for boys and Thianna is for girls.” They’re just people. Some readers will identify more with one or the other, but I didn’t feel pressured either way, and neither character is a stereotype! There are also numerous female supporting characters in a variety of roles (although it’s a bit weird that both mothers are dead).

Karn is interested in games and mental acuity rather than farming and bartering and physical sports. His journey is basically about appreciating his family and appreciating the skill it takes to run a farm. Thianna loves physical sports and skiing, and her journey is kind of the inverse of Karn’s — she thinks a little too highly of her giant ancestry, as a reaction against her human half. She learns to appreciate other people and places, as part of her journey to accepting herself as both giant and human. Her struggle in particular really works as an illustration of the pressures on girls and women… She can never be big and strong enough for some of the giants to consider her their equal, but she can’t be small and delicate enough to fit in among humans, either. It’s a no-win scenario, but the message is that she’s okay as she is. She’s Thianna. As her father says, she IS a giant, that’s just not ALL she is!

I could keep rambling about the awesome characters and the awesome dragon and the awesome skeletons and all the other awesome stuff, but I’d just keep spoiling more of the book. Go read Frostborn, you can get it anywhere books are available!

Teachers’ guide, excerpt, games, and other stuff available at http://www.thronesandbones.com.

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