Title: The Monstrous Child
Series: The Mortal Gods #3 (I think it can be read as a standalone, though – I did!)
Author: Francesca Simon
Genre: Young Adult, Mythology
Publication: December 1st 2016, Faber and Faber
Source: Thank you to Lovereading4Kids and Faber and Faber for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
'Before you reject me, before you hate me, remember: I never asked to be Hel's queen.'
But being a normal teenager wasn't an option either. Now she's stuck ruling the underworld. For eternity.
She doesn't want your pity. But she does demand that you listen. It's only fair you hear her side of the story . . . It didn't have to be like this.
When I was given a chance to review this book, I answered with a resounding yes. Firstly, can we just look at that cover? It's beautiful. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (but we're all guilty of that, right? Or is that just me? Please don't say it's just me...I'll just awkwardly see myself out then) but if I saw that in the bookstore I would pick it up because LOOK AT IT. It's utterly gorgeous. Secondly, it's about Norse mythology! I LOVE reading books about mythology (helloooo, Percy Jackson) and since I know literally nothing about Norse mythology (I only know a bit about Loki and Thor, thanks, Marvel) I was looking forward to learning more about it, however, this book didn't quite reach my expectations but it was still an entertaining read that, although I didn't love, I did find I enjoyed!
The Monstrous Child is told from the perspective of Hel, the child of a giantess and the Norse god, Loki. She has spent her life feeling unloved and is riddled with bitterness and anger towards the gods who have treated her with indifference and disgust after seeing her mangled, corpse legs; except for Baldr who has only ever treated her with kindness and as a result, Hel has fallen in love with him. However, her intense hatred for the other gods grows tenfold when Odin (I think) tosses her into the underworld to be the ruler of the dead. Stuck to rule for millennia in the raging, bleak darkness, Hel begins to plot her revenge on them.
This book had potential and there were several things that I loved! Hel's voice was hilariously sarcastic and it gave the otherwise sombre book a darkly humorous undertone, it was a book about Norse mythology and I haven't read any books about Norse mythology – a few have featured the Greek and Egyptian legends but rarely have I come across those dealing with the Norse kind and thirdly, I liked the author's writing style. It flowed smoothly and the words were interlinked in a melodic manner and I thought the author described the macabre atmosphere perfectly – seriously, though. On the front of the book, one of the reviews states it's a “dark” read and it is. Not only for the violence the gods and other beings engaged in but for the vivid descriptions of the underworld that made me picture perfectly the desolation of not only the physical landscape but also of Hel's emotional state and the souls who reside in the underworld. It was brilliantly described and I could feel the melancholy of Hel and her palace as if it were a tangible thing, which I've always believed to be a sign of a great writer.
However, even though there were a few things that I loved, there were several things that prevented me from fully loving this book as much as I could have. The first thing I found to have an issue with was that although Hel's sarcastic tone had me chuckling in several places, it got to be a bit much after awhile. I can understand why the author gave her such a biting, acerbic tone but I needed to see a glimmer of good in her and at times I thought maybe I would but then she navigated back to her selfish ways. Another thing is, she wallows in self-pity. A lot. She wallowed in the beginning of the book too but there were other things occurring that distracted me from her constant grumbling, however, once she entered the Underworld that's all the book consisted of. Hel's acidic tongue became tedious after awhile, she was devoid of any optimism and happiness and I could understand why given her situation but I would've liked it if I could've seen a lighter side of her. That brings me to the second issue, the second half of the book doesn't contain much plot-wise, which is understandable seeing as she's ruling over the dead and there isn't much to do, but I would've liked it if there was more to the second half of the story than Hel's constant complaining and self-pitying episodes. However, despite that, The Monstrous Child is one of those books that compels you to keep reading even though it's not the most enthralling book with the most complex characters and I sped through it fairly quickly. Despite being strewn with things I found problematic, it was a read that lured me in. There were two other things that left me feeling slightly disappointed and that was there wasn't an in-depth forage into the captivating Norse legends. As a reader who knows nothing about it, I would've appreciated the foundations of Norse mythology to be outlined. According to Goodreads this is the third book in the series and I was under the false impression that this was a standalone. Although it reads well as one, I do believe that by not reading the predecessors it accounted for my discombobulated reading experience. One last thing (this is beginning to sound like quite a negative review, but the book wasn't that bad I just seem to have a few more issues with it than I originally thought. Oops.), accompanying Hel's eternal self-pitying was her obsession with Baldr, the one being who had shown her kindness. Obviously, I could understand why Hel felt like that as upon meeting her, he hadn't flinched or recoiled at the sight and smell of her but as a reader, he felt two-dimensional and comprised solely of paper and I couldn't bring myself to care for him as she did. Also, it was an intense case of insta-love. Intense. Like, girl, you literally have forever to fall in love and find someone, time is not an issue for you and you don't need to be so obsessed with someone you met once. I just couldn't bring myself to care for the romance (not that there was one, really, it was a one-sided obsession) and every time Hel droned on about him I found myself rolling my eyes.
The Monstrous Child would be brilliant for people who have a basic grasp on Norse mythology and who adore a protagonist with a fiery temper and a fierce tongue. Describing the hellish plains of the raging, blackened underworld in a lyrical manner that conjures perfectly the bleakness of the deadened land and is accompanied by sorrow keenly felt by the reader, I felt quite caught up in the world Francesca Simon had reimagined. Luckily, Hel's cynical voice comprised of melodramatic, sarcastic quips transformed the dismal tone into one that is comical, albeit quite dark. Despite that, I did find the second half of the book lacking in plot and Hel's voice which I initially was quite fond became quite tedious after a few chapters. If you're looking for a quick read that lures you in and is doused with a concoction of mythology, a sassy narrator with a biting tongue, a somber world suffering under the vindictive reign of the Norse gods written in a darkly comical manner look no further than The Monstrous Child.
I give it: 3.5/5 cupcakes