"Odd and the Frost Giants" by Neil Gaiman.
I've read this book before, a couple of years ago. I liked it then, but I loved it this time around. I thinks it's partly because I read this in English this time, while I read the Italian translation, which, while good, paled in comparison to the original version, and partly because I have become a huge Norse mythology nerds in the meantime.
This time around, I knew all the myths and I was laughing at all the in-jokes way before they were explained to the reader. And it's great to see the figures I love so much represented so flawlessly.
The main character is Odd, a Norse boy who was crippled in an accident. He doesn't fit in with the rest of his village and decides to run away from home. He comes across a fox, a bear and an eagle, who are actually Norse gods. They have been turned into animals by a Frost Giant, who has invaded Asgard. If they don't defeat him, Odd's land will be frozen in a perpetual winter, and many humans and animals will die. To prevent this, Odd chooses to help the gods reclaim Asgard.
Odd is a great main character: he's clever, he's optimistic, he's curious, he's determined, he's brave. He doesn't let his handicap get in the way of what he has to do. Also, he's a hero who relies on his wit and isn't an hot-heated idiot who loves to get himself into trouble.
The gods were hilarious. Being blocked into animal forms, they were pretty much helpless and so they were constantly bickering and behaving like children. Which could have turned out really annoying or really enjoyable. In this case, it's really enjoyable:
"We weren't arguing," said the bear. "Because we can't talk." Then it said, "Oops."
The fox and the eagle looked at the bear, who put a paw over his eyes and looked ashamed of itself.
Odd sighed. "Which one of you wants to explain what's going on?"
"Nothing's going on," said the fox brightly. "Just a few talking animals. Nothing to worry about. Happens every day. We'll be out of your hair first thing in the morning."
The eagle fixed Odd with its one good eye. Then it turned to the fox. "Tell!"
The fox shifted uncomfortably. "Why me?"
"Oh," said the bear, "I don't know. Possibly because it's all your fault?"Yeah, the gods aren't always the sharpest tools in the shed, but that is justified by Freya.
Oh, yeah, let's talk about Freya, guys. Freya is awesome. She is smart and wise and gentle and witty and powerful and she stands up for herself.
Also, she says one of the best sentences in the whole book.
"He doesn't learn" said Odd.
He though he had said it to himself, in his head, but Freya, who was sitting beside him, said, "No. He doesn't learn. None of them do. And they don't change, either. They can't. It's all part of being a God."I just love this quote, because the hidden meaning is that humans have a huge advantage on gods because of our ability to adapt and to learn from our experiences and to change.
Also, on the note of how much I like Freya's character, it's interesting that she says "they" and not "us", implying that she has the potential to learn from her experience and change.
Odd's mother is an interesting character, too, though we don't see much of her. What she went through must have been really hard, but she always remained strong and made the best of what she had.
This novella is less dark than Gaiman's other works, but I can't say I mind, because the tone fits the story flawlessly.
The writing is fantastic, the characters are great, the humor is good, the story is entertaining and there are some interesting reflections and lessons in there, too.