Book Review: The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon
ashley | Oops, I did it again. I jumped into The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon before realizing this is actually the third book in a series. BUT the premise sounded really interesting to me – a story about the goddess of the underworld? Hel-yeah! Luckily for me, this does work pretty well as a stand-alone and while maybe there’d be benefits of reading the previous books, I felt pretty confident without.
This was, very loosely, a brief lesson on Norse mythology for children, with an angsty-teen twist. There’s a lot of talk about gods and giants, Odin and the like. Anyone with a fluttering interest in this mythology will be drawn to the easy telling of these mythical gods, assuming they aren’t put off by the casual modern tone of a teenage goddess who reflectively looks back on a time when she didn’t hate everything. Let me repeat that: the narrator is a whiny teen who hates and complains about everything. You’ve been warned.
What I really liked most about this story was the modern day situations sprinkled into it, these everyday hot topics you see so often in headlines right now, like bullying, harassment, self image etc. Hel chastises male giants for telling her to smile as she passes them, Hel and her brother are scorned by the other god children for having deformities, Hel has that teenage girl obsessive first love etc. These are really strong themes that you see a lot these days, set in this mythical land, but very fittingly. It doesn’t seem like Simon is purposely putting them there to make a point or draw attention to a message, they’re embraced by the story, part of the atmosphere.
Naturally, I thrived in the angst and embraced Hel’s dark perception of not just the underworld, but the world itself. I enjoyed living in her underworld for a little while, but it did start to get a bit monotonous, her complaining all the time about being dead and lonely got annoying and her obsession with Baldr never stopped. I guess that’s a very accurate feeling of the monotony of what it must be like to be stuck in the afterworld like that and alas, I’m an adult, she’s a teen, naturally there will be a cap to my patience for this unending drivel.
There are a lot of mixed reviews about this story, a lot focuses on how whiny Hel is (I already warned you of this) and others on how childish and juvenile the book feels without delving much into the depths of the mythology. This is very clearly a teen book and very clearly not an academic study of Norse mythology. I thought it was a great introduction to some mythical characters you don’t always hear about, giving enough interesting details to encourage the reader to want to learn more about them. But this book is not where you’ll find all the facts and details. There are plenty of other resources for that.
What Simon has done is taken an interesting goddess, put her in the mindset of your average teen and let her build herself an underworld fortress where she can sulk about lost love and rule the underworld. I actually thought this was well done, well explored and well thought out. It’s a super quick read, but that’s all you need from this. Think of it more like a fable than a novel and you likely won’t face the same fated disappointment.
june 6, 2017
copy provided for honest review by