Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Frostborn by Lou Anders (No Spoilers)

Those of you who want to know more about Lou Anders should check out the interview I conducted with him last time we were all together. It is a good one!

Cover Art by Justin Gerard

One of my most important moments as young boy was when my father handed me a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I remember this moment distinctly-- I was eleven at the time, and one of the big complaints my parents had was that I was reading "too many comic books" and that it was time for me to "grow up." Because, you know, nothing makes someone grow up like switching from comics to fantasy novels... but anyway. The memory was because the cover was done by the amazing Alan Lee, who at the time was on a tear re-doing all of Tolkien's covers for the publisher. This was before the LOTR movies, and each one was a masterpiece.

What I found inside that book changed my life forever. Without The Hobbit I don't think I would have ended up with my dream of becoming a successful fantasy author, a dream that I will pursue until my life ends. The story of Bilbo was exactly what I need to... reading isn't the appropriate word here, but what I went through was an experience, one that showed me I could define myself without having to fit into a particular box (trope), that the power of goodness and fairness really do matter, and more importantly, that courage isn't being the biggest and the toughest, but the most willing.

I have grown older and moved on to more adult fantasy (thanks, Dad), but The Hobbit always stayed with me. It was my book.

I say all this, prattling on, because I think the importance of Lou Anders' Frostborn needs to be made clear: This isn't my Hobbit, but after reading it twice through, I am almost certain it would have been if I was eleven in 2014.

Anders has crafted a tale filled with ages-old themes and lessons that I think are often missing from a lot of today's fantasy, be it Middle-Grade or Adult. Friendship, Courage, Intelligence, and Trust--these are things that are often assumed to be in the background of every children's novel, but rarely are they talked about openly and pursued passionately, let alone done well. I believe this to be a major reason why I dislike Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series so much--when it is done out in the open it is too campy to my taste, and when it hidden in the background I just don't care. Anders falls more in with JK Rowling and Lloyd Alexander, so much so with the latter that I almost felt like I was reading The Book of Three (another classic everyone should read.) To put a point on it, I was taken on a great adventure and learned something.

I love the main characters, Karn and Thianna: while being new and interesting, they are also timeless. Thianna is a gem, especially when one looks at how Anders worked with a lot of different classical elements to develop a incredibly likable character that girls need to read more of. This book is like making an old soup recipe with the same ingredients, but the measures have been altered so the taste is different, and it tastes good. Even the secondary characters fit into their classical molds, but there is a small detail here, a small flair there, that truly sets them off with life and breath. More importantly, both of the main protagonists grow in an honest way--they never stop being kids, but they don't have their innocence stripped away. That detail is often overdone or overwrought, but here again, Anders shines. There won't be a forced adulthood. There won't be a black day that stains the rest of their lives. They win, they work, but at the end of the book, they remain wonderful.

The writing itself is never too simplified (which is always a big sin to me--kids don't need to be coddled because of a "lack of understand or nuance"), nor is it ever too high for someone of the age it is aimed towards. Anders works his Tolkien-like style very well, being able to balance character, dialogue, setting, and pace in equal measure. One of the key elements of the book focuses around Karn's ability to play his favorite board game, Thrones & Bones, and the many applications he uses this ability to get himself out of sticky situations. This is particularly well-done in his final standoff with the leader of the draugrs, which proves that you can be thrilling without a sword fight in adventure fantasy.

I do have some criticisms of the book. With the exception of the draugr lead the villains were a bit flat. Some of the humor is a little too young for me to really get a laugh out of, but that has more to do with me being how old I am more than anything else. The world of Norrongard is full and fleshed out, but I finished the book still wanting to know a little more about the Frost Giant's world, especially from Thianna's viewpoint. It was just missing that one *thing* that separates a "very good" setting from a "great setting."

But even with these criticism, Anders has forged for younger readers one hell of a fantasy adventure. I would definitely recommend this book, and I am sure the next one will be as equally charming.

See you all soon! Next post will feature my adventures at Dragon*Con!

Remember, you can always follow me @JayRequard!

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