We Hae Books

The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon


I was looking for a reasonably quick novel to read, something light after reading the old sagas. I’ll be honest, had I realised this was the third in a series and written for young adults I may not have bothered with it, but it fit the bill.

Francesca Simon is best known for the Horrible Henry children’s books, and this is aimed at slightly older children. It’s intended as a teen novel and is a little dark for younger kids but I think it would suit 11-15 year olds. It’s apparently the third in a series but looking into it I don’t think they’re particularly linked together. It seems to be a theme rather than a continuous series.

Hel is the youngest of Loki’s three children with Angrboda and she despises them all. Her brothers for being uncouth animals, her mother for hating the sight of her and her father for never being there. She even hates herself because she is a corpse from the waist down. The adolescent, acerbic tone is both cutting and entertaining. This is one angry girl, and not without cause. The one being that has shown her any kindness is Baldr, who swung her in his arms once and smiled at her so of course she falls in love with him.

This Hel is sullen and the book is almost an internal monologue, in that there is little dialogue. I thought this would get old pretty quickly and not that much really happens for several chapters at a time. This approach works for this book though, as she is an outcast. Few speak to her voluntarily, and even fewer touch her. Hel was a child when she was made Goddess of the Underworld and as the novel isn’t aimed at adults, I could see children identifying with her if they feel a bit of an outsider too.

The plot isn’t really anything new, although I don’t think Hel loved Baldr in the original myths. However it’s a viewpoint that not many novels take, and that in itself can be applauded. The “events” are few and far between but it’s a short novel and it gives scope to really get inside Hel’s head. She is doing what she can with the lot she has been given yet resents others for being whole and for everything being inflicted on her because of her parentage.

This won’t be for everyone due to its shorter length and lack of in depth plot but if you remember the audience I think that it can be excused. Others may find the adolescent whining a bit repetitive, and I did too for a while in the middle, but it’s still a reasonably good book featuring an often forgotten character in Norse Mythology.