cover image The Monstrous Child

The Monstrous Child

Francesca Simon, illus. by Olivia Lomenech Gill. Faber & Faber (PGW, dist.), $11.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-571-33027-0

Hel, the protagonist of this deliciously fun YA debut from Simon (the Horrid Henry series), is the daughter of trickster god Loki and Angrboda the giantess. Hel was born a monster: while her top half is normal, she has the legs of a corpse. The Fates have foretold that Hel’s brothers, Fenrir the wolf and Jormungand the snake, will kill Odin and Thor during Ragnarok, so the deities abduct the siblings and bring them to Asgard. Hel falls in love with the god Baldr, but her happiness is short-lived: Odin incapacitates Hel’s kin, then banishes her to Niflheim to rule the dead. By recasting the Norse queen of hell as a snarky, disaffected teenager, Simon makes the ancient relatable and adds humor to an otherwise grim and gruesome tale: “Let’s pause and take a closer look at just some of Dad’s children,” Hel offers. “Eight legs (Sleipnir). Four legs (Fenrir). No legs (Jormungand). Corpse legs (yours truly).” Though the book is light on plot and narrative drive, it oozes style, and Simon’s evocative descriptions transport readers to the strange and brutal world of Norse myth. Ages 12–up. (June)