by Edith Pattou (Author)
The flyleaf blurb of North Child announces that the author ‘became an expert in mapmaking, seamanship, Scandinavian languages, Norse mythology and the Arctic’ while researching the book. Sadly, Pattou’s newfound expertise does not shine in this novel. Pattou has replaced the conciseness of the folktale form (her novel makes use of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’) with a detail-oriented kind of epic exoticism, and more has been lost than gained in the exchange.
The immediacy of the folktale’s location in ‘once upon a time’ has been uprooted in favour of a vast European setting in a vague, ‘olde worlde’ historical period, sometime after the Siege of Orleans in 1429, but without any more specific temporal setting. The result is a vague and unreal location with pretensions to historical and geographical accuracy.
The matter-of-fact presence of magic in folktale as a force whose motivation does not need to be explained or questioned is also denied in Pattou’s novel. Her magic always has an easily identifiable function, which actually bolsters the rationality of the novel. For instance, the bear is able to carry the girl across the sea by means of a convenient magic bag that allows her to breathe safely underwater. The less rationally justifiable events in the original story, such as the girl’s journey on the back of the North Wind, are left out.
This novel bludgeons the folktale into an overly rationalistic, epic narrative form that relies on exoticism for its appeal and has no meaningful historical or geographical accuracy. Titled ‘East’ for its American publication in 2003, it looks eastward to Europe as a fantasy world, while its title ‘North Child’ for European markets allows it to ride on the success of Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’
. The novel is targeted at girls aged 12+. Its lengthiness could discourage reluctant readers while its fundamental weaknesses may irritate stronger readers.