The Books for Keeps review of Francesca Simon’s The Sleeping Army suggested that she gives her readers so much to think about that a Ring Cycle starring Freya might be required. So it’s very good to see this new story in Simon’s Norse adventures.
In The Sleeping Army, an encounter with the Lewis Chessmen resulted in schoolgirl Freya being magically transported into Asgard, realm of the gods. She helped rescue Idunn, guardian of the apples of immortality, thereby restoring the gods to their eternal youth. Not that they were very grateful mind.
In this book, the gods Thor, Woden, Freyja, plus their loyal beserk bodyguard Snot, come to London, dropping out of the blue onto the Millennium Bridge during the Thorsday morning rush hour. They’re expecting a heroes welcome – after all, in this version of London, the state religion is not Christianity but Wodenism – but they don’t get it. No-one is paying attention to the gods, and you’re more likely to find crowds of worshippers gathered outside the Apple store than a temple. Sound familiar?
This is a problem for Freya. The gods need the adoration of humankind to maintain their super powers, and with their enemies the frost giants preparing to wage war, those super powers are crucial. So Freya turns to a celebrity PR for help and before you can say, ‘I’m a Norse god get me out of here,’ the three immortals have more followers on Twitter than Lady Gaga.
While The Sleeping Army was action packed saga, the first half of this is much more a social satire, and very funny it is too, as you’d expect from Simon. Alongside the sharp digs at our celebrity obsessed culture there are reworkings of tried and tested teen gags – frumpy mum transformed into wayward teen by a bite of magic apple for example. The second half, when the frost giants attack, is much darker. There are gruesome and scary battle scenes, and candid looks at the nature of the Viking religion, ‘Who are you to ask for attention from the mighty Gods?’ Woden asks his priestess, ’We gave you life and that’s enough.’ This will be most enjoyable if you’ve read The Sleeping Army though Simon does a good job at smoothly filling in new readers on the background, and everyone will be left wanting more. Fortunately, as Freya’s friend Roskva says, ‘There’s bound to be a next time.’