Reviewed by Antonella Townsend
Well, I tried! Donning a critique mind-set, I embarked on my maiden Frostheart voyage. Initially, I made notes along the lines that the protagonist – an abandoned boy with special powers living in an unfriendly environment – was a worn out trope. But it didn’t last, critique turned to compliment. This is an enchanting story. Although intended for middle-grade (years 7-8), I’m sure Jamie Littler’s debut novel will be read by a wide range of readers – even adults. I know that is a bold claim but Frostheart should be read before judging my gawky inner child.
The Frostheart is an enormous sleigh, rigged out with sails and with all the accoutrements usually associated with large boats, also using solar power. It transports brave pathfinders over dangerous terrain, taking supplies to the isolated strongholds where people live perched high above the snow sea. Under said snow sea lurks the vicious Leviathan, their raison d’être is to hunt and eat humans. So travelling the long distances between strongholds is a hazardous task attempted only by the pathfinders.
In the far-flung Fira stronghold, our hero, Ash, lives with his enormous yeti guardian Tobu. Ash loves to sing a lullaby that his long-time absent parents sang to him. But he also feels the urge to commune with the Leviathans in song. And, herein lies the problem. To sing is to be ostracized as a dreaded song weaver.
Song weavers have magical powers to connect with, and control, the Leviathan. But, (there is always a ‘but’), this power can be erratic, with the result that the Leviathan possesses the song weaver. In this scenario, the stronghold becomes vulnerable to attack. For this reason, the Fira stronghold has banned all forms of music. No humming, no whistling, no musical instruments and absolutely no singing. So, Ash, who gradually realizes he is a song weaver, walks a thin line – he just cannot stop himself from being a bit tuneful. Tobu is attempting to teach Ash the art of survival and not to sing. His hunting lessons start with deep breathing, focus, blocking out peripheral distractions. So mindfulness – useful for survival in any world!
It is a bleak day when the Leviathan attacks the Fira hunters, who have ventured onto the snow to hunt game. Ash saves the day by singing the Leviathan into submission. For his trouble he is thrown out, along with Tobu, and seeks refuge on Captain Nuk’s sleigh, the Frostheart. Nuk and her crew are brave pathfinders with kind hearts and they take Ash aboard. Incidentally, Nuk is a walrus!
The adventure that follows is scary, and imaginative, and impossible to put down. Although Littler’s hilarious illustrations, scattered on most of the pages, tones down this ferocious plot. In all the turmoil, Ash is trying to hone his song weaving skills and to deduce who is the bad guy, who has his best interests at heart, Shard or Tobu. But he has a wonderful friend in Lunah. She spends a fair bit of time hanging upside down, and, I predict, her constellation cloak will be trending any day now. It is Lunah who helps Ash to decipher the lullaby, which is intended to lead him to his long lost parents. Well, when they are not fighting for their lives!
As the novel progresses Ash learns to believe in himself, while not being judgmental of others who are different, and to realize he needs guidance. Like a lot of good fantasy, Jamie Littler’s imagined world is a parallel version of the known – otherworldly but recognizable. The story carries a philosophy that Littler describes so well within the concept of song weaving. The song weaver’s inner motivation links with, and changes, the song, which in turn is connected to deeper elements in the world. This becomes clear towards the end of the novel and leaves the reader with some powerful images.
Frostheart carries universal messages – the importance of loyalty, family and friends, keeping calm and focused when calamity strikes, and, choose your role models with care!
By Jamie Littler
Penguin Random House Group
Paperback: ISBN: 9780241355220