Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review - Frostborn (Thrones & Bones book 1)

I've always been a fan of boardgames ranging from very thematic and involved games to the more abstract strategy games like Chess. I've also always enjoyed the Norse mythology and viking adventures. So naturally I was intrigued by Frostborn (Thrones & Bones). The quick summary tells of a young boy named Karn who would "rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones" and of a half frost giantess named Thianna. While the story is set in its own fantasy world, it's based on concepts, ideas and creatures from the Norse mythos. The author invented the board game "Thrones and Bones" for the book but based it on the old Viking game Hnefatafl. The only risk I saw in reading this book was that it was rumored to be the start of a series and I sometimes have a hard time keeping up with a series.

This is a middle grader novel so the prose is simple and the plot is fast paced. This doesn't prevent the author from weaving a rather complex history and creating an elaborate world. The characters, races, mythology and environments are rich and vibrant. The writing is enjoyable and engaging and sure to appeal to young readers while also maintaining enough depth to hold the interest of adult readers.

The book begins with a prologue adventure. The prologue takes place numerous years before the primary plot of the book but the author leaves the reader in the dark as to how the prologue ties in for the first many chapters. I was able to guess at some of the connections but most of the intrigue and mystery is unraveled with just the right balance of clues and revelations to keep the plot surprising and yet teetering on the edge of allowing the reader to guess at the secrets.

The two primary characters Karn and Thianna come from very different backgrounds and seem unlikely to have anything in common or any reason to be paired up for the plot of the story. Each of them are caught in the middle of struggles with the traditions and beliefs of their people. Karn is the heir to a multi-generation farm with the tradition of being passed from father to eldest son. Karn has no desire to take over the farm and is at odds with his father as a result. Thianna is a half breed living among frost giants and sharing in much of their strength and other physical traits but with the body size closer to a human and as a result is constantly teased and persecuted by other frost giants.

The two characters come together are each of their fathers drag them on an outing to an annual trading event between giants and humans. As the two children at the event, Karn and Thianna are thrown together to play and explore. They get to know each other and become casual friends but still don't establish any bond that will set them off on an adventure.

Until they each find their lives thrown into chaos by completely different causes. One is undermined by conspiracy and greed that results in running to escape undesirable consequences. The other is overtaken by a secret from the past that seeks revenge. Both Thianna and Karn run off into the wilderness for fear of their life. Neither is certain of the path to follow. Fate or coincidence allows their paths to cross and they decide to travel together and figure out what to do. Through their travels, they grow closer and come up with plans to overcome the past and deal with the people and creatures hunting them.

The adventure is quite fun even if there were a few elements that felt somewhat borrowed. (There were a few particular scenes that reminded me very directly of one of my favorite Disney fact, from a certain point on I read a particular character using the voice of the Disney animated character). In spite of some predictability or heavy handed coincidences I really enjoyed the story and felt very satisfied with the way things played out. My only real problem was that both characters felt significantly older than their years. I will grant that Karn's affinity to his board game may have uncovered a more mature strategic aptitude but that mature aptitude seemed to expand to his whole being in a way that felt a little stretched for a pre-teen boy. Thianna similarly felt a little more like a young adult than an early adolescent. Usually I didn't even think of this until I glanced at the cover art showing a very young pair of children.

My apprehension at this being the first in a series was unfounded. Even though it's clear from the final page that the author intends to write more stories in this world and with these characters, he very cleanly brought this particular story to a conclusion. I don't mind cliffhangers in a series, I just have a hard time keeping up with multi-book sagas and sadly don't always finish them. Fortunately this book works great as a standalone and while it does leave me intrigued for the future of the characters, it ties up the loose ends and wraps the conclusion up nicely.

Overall this was a great read. It's definitely aimed to younger readers and will be very accessible to them. The plot and the content are very appropriate for younger readers while still having enough depth and intrigue to keep an older reader interested. It has some fun fantasy elements alongside a light smattering of history, cultural and political intrigue. Generally it's just an exciting adventure story but it also has a few short asides to allow the reader to think more deeply about some situations and concepts. I really enjoyed this book and hope to pass it over to my kids with the expectation that they'll like it as well.

4 out of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

huh, will run this one by my middle schooler and see what he thinks...we are reading rangers apprentice series right now...