Published: 3rd October 2019
Publisher: Puffin Books/Penguin Audio
Pages: 442 / 8 hours and 19 mins (audiobook)
Format: Audiobook narrated by Joshua McGuire (purchased via Audible)
RRP: $14.99AUD print / $14.95AUD with Audible membership
Way out in the furthest part of the known world, a tiny stronghold exists all on its own, cut off from the rest of human-kin by monsters that lurk beneath the Snow Sea.
There, a little boy called Ash waits for the return of his parents, singing a forbidden lullaby to remind him of them… and doing his best to avoid his very, VERY grumpy yeti guardian, Tobu.
But life is about to get a whole lot more crazy-adventurous for Ash.
When a brave rescue attempt reveals he has amazing magical powers, he’s whisked aboard the Frostheart, a sleigh packed full of daring explorers who could use his help. But can they help him find his family . . . ?
Like many readers, I follow How To Train Your Gavin on booktube, so when Believathon II came around last year, I tried to read a book from every single one of his prompts and their corresponding authors. By doing so, I made it a priority to read what is arguably Gavin’s favourite book, Frostheart by Jamie Littler. Almost instantly I was hooked on the world Littler had created, its characters and the plight of Ash and the Frostheart crew.
Frostheart was one of my most unexpected, but most rewarding reads of 2020.
Set in the world many years removed from the one we know, humans inhabit strongholds, small communities separated from each other by oceans of snow and ice. Each of these strongholds has its own customs, traditions, and people, who fear the Leviathans, a terrifying creature that lurks in the snow threatening their very existence. The strongholds rely on Pathfinders, brave adventurers who travel from stronghold to stronghold discovering new worlds and bringing much-needed supplies. When Ash becomes an outcast due to his song-weaver powers (magical song powers), he joins the pathfinder crew aboard Frostheart and so our adventure begins.
Ash is a young song weaver, a person possessing magical song powers, that has been left behind at Fira by his parents some ten years prior. With singing outlawed in Fira, Ash struggles to find his place in a world built to tear him down. With a surly Yeti tasked as his guardian, Ash yearns to follow his lullaby and find his parents in the world beyond the strongholds reach. When the pathfinder crew aboard Frostheart arrive at Fira, Ash is set upon a life-changing path of self-discovery that will challenge everything he knows about the world around him.
Jamie Littler is a renowned illustrator, and his illustrations throughout this book are meant to be amazing. Unfortunately, as I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Joshua McGuire, I can’t really comment on this, except to say since listening to the audiobook, I’ve ordered a print copy so I can physically re-read the series in the future.
Speaking of Joshua McGuire, the British actor has done an amazing job bringing Frostheart, and indeed the entire Frostheart series, to life. Being an avid audiobook listener, I tend to listen to audiobooks at least double their original speed, despite this, I didn’t have any difficulty following along or understanding McGuire at all. There is just something so soothing about his accent, cadence, and his tone, that I very quickly became swept up in the story. McGuire’s storytelling is very emotive and expressive, so much so that I felt as though I was standing aboard the Frostheart with the crew themselves telling me their story. In hindsight, I think McGuire’s narration has made the entire Frostheart series perhaps my favourite middle-grade audiobooks of all time.
I am seriously in awe of Littler’s world-building. Unlike many adult novels, and almost every other middle-grade novel I’ve read recently, Frostheart’s world-building doesn’t rely on repetition, info-dumping or long-winded explanations. Instead, he drip-feeds the reader the perfect amount of information surrounding the world (and the characters) at precisely the right time in order to not overwhelm or bore them. What ensures is an extremely well-paced novel, with almost effortless world-building that encompasses countless strongholds, terrains, lore, traditions and people from different backgrounds and species … oh and complex, but easy to understand magic system. Largely Littler is able to achieve this by perfectly positioning the reader alongside Ash, and thus we learn about the world through the eyes of a child, allowing us to experience culture shock for the first time with him, but unlike Ash, we are not overwhelmed by it as he is.
As mentioned above, Ash is our main protagonist and such a loveable character. Mistreated and misunderstood by the Fira stronghold, he holds a wary view of those around him, while holding on to an idealised concept of his missing parents and what life would be like with them. Because of this Ash is often angry and emotional as he is forced to deal with everything that comes with being an orphaned song-weaver in a distrustful world, and he lashes out at those around him, most notably at Tobu. Throughout the course of the novel, however, he undergoes an immense amount of character growth as he meets new people, gains new experiences and finds himself in tough circumstances. Through his character, Littler explores the themes of ethics, right and wrong, what it means to be family (and found families), the importance of friendships, acceptance and finding your place in the world.
Tobu, Ash’s Yeti guardian, is a surly individual who prefers his own company. As a warrior, he is single-handedly focused on Ash’s training and isn’t the emotional parental figure Ash longs for. Tobu, is however a big teddy bear under his gruff exterior, and you know, despite Ash not realising it, how much he has come to care for his young charge. McGuire’s narration of Tobu is very distinct and solemn, with not much range in his tone of voice or expression, and yet despite this, I adored the growing relationship between Tobu and Ash, and loved seeing their interactions flourish.
The other most influential figure in Ash’s life is Lunan, the Frostheart’s navigator and Ash’s best friend. She is full of chaotic energy that you can’t help but love and is the Ying to Ash’s Yang. Together the pair get up to the most manic of mischief. In fact, it’s so easy to forget how old these pair are, and yet it feels authentic to their age, as every now and then Littler will have them say or do something that instantly reminds you that they are just children tasked with challenges and obstacles far beyond their years.
I highly recommend Frostheart for anyone looking for a whimsical adventure, full of magic and fast-paced action that will leave you hanging on to very word. I specifically recommend Frostheart for fans of Jessica Townsend and JK Rowling’s books, as they are similar in tone and atmosphere with darker, more complex themes explored throughout all three series.