The best children’s books are those that also appeal to adults, and they do that by presenting characters with elements that readers of all ages can recognize in themselves.
Undrastormur: A Viking Tale of Troublesome Trolls by Roger Eschbacher is one of those books. It continues the author’s oeuvre of middle-grade books based on ancient northern European mythology, started in Dragonfriend and Giant Killer.
Undrastormur is the Storm of Wonder, unleashed by a special spell to the thunder god, Thor. The story begins when young Eirik wakes up before dawn one morning, feeling extra hungry, so he goes out into the forest to find mushrooms. Because he’s away from his Norse village, he avoids an attack by giant, horrible trolls who mysteriously are not deterred by sunlight. Terrified, he hides in a cave too small for trolls to get into. There, he finds part of his grandfather’s staff, a weapon that when whole can call down the Undrastormur, the storm that will destroy the trolls and save the village.
But there’s a problem, explained by the guardian spirit, Bruun: the staff is broken and will not work until its two halves are joined together again, and the other half is in Nilfheim, the Norse underworld, a cold, dark land of despair beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the world tree.
Bruun explains that Eirik has inherited his grandfather’s magical properties, which is why he can communicate with a guardian spirit and survive the trip to Nilfheim. Taking his grandfather’s talisman so that he can return to his own world—after surviving an encounter with the trolls and escaping—Eirik goes to Nilfheim, where he meets a girl. It turns out that Astrid had also been sent to find Eirik’s grandfather’s staff, but had been stymied when the staff had been taken by a monster of Niflheim.
And here is the challenge: Eirik must learn to trust Astrid and work with her to defeat the monster, return to Earth, and then use the restored full staff to defeat the trolls.
Sure, it’s based on that trope of a young man, or teenager who inherits special properties that make him the only hope of his people—but hey, this is a fantasy, based on ancient mythology. It works.
One of Eschbacher’s main strengths as an author is his ability to show us interesting and believable characters. We can recognize in them people that we all know. Old Aesa, a tough old lady of the village, is my favourite. She reminds me of some of my relatives in her no-nonsense talking manner and her delight in shocking young people.
Eirik and Astrid are believable young people. Eirik is often terrified, but knowing that he’s the only hope for the village, embarks on his adventure anyway. Astrid is a strong, smart and able young woman who has learned how to survive. Even Bruun, the household spirit, is funny and interesting.
And the trolls are great: huge, ugly, disgusting, dim-witted and very funny.
Wonderful for adults & kids
Undrastormur is a lot of fun for the middle grade set: humour, grisly, messy deaths at the hands of hideous and amusingly stupid trolls, magic and resourceful young people finding the solution to problems that freeze grown-up hearts.
As an author, Eshcbacher, is a true professional. He’s written a number of children’s books and works in Hollywood as a writer for children’s programs. So of course, Undrastormur has obviously been professionally edited and produced, and has a professionally designed cover.
It’s a book that’s aimed at children, but with a solid story, fully developed characters, lots of humour and a surprising twist at the end, like the best of all art for children, it’s a book that adults can enjoy, too. I just wish it had been longer.
You can get it on Amazon.