The Crimson and the Frost by John Williams and James Coletti
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Holiday
Length: Full Length (222 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
Delve into a world where magic rules, mystery waits around every turn and a war between two immortals looms on the icy horizon…
Late one night, as young Billy Hampton investigates a strange presence in the woods behind his house, he discovers a curious transport. He makes the hasty decision to climb aboard, and suddenly he is whisked away to the remote winter wastelands of the far north.
Billy finds himself in a town full of mystery and wonder, built by the legendary Crimson Wizard and his devoted followers. The residents had lived here in peace for centuries, protected by a powerful magic jewel known as the Heart of Polaris. It is their only defense against the wicked and covetous King of Winter who wants them cast out of the lands he claims are his alone.
Now, Billy accidentally loses the Heart of Polaris and without its protection, his newfound friends become vulnerable to the power and fury of the King of Winter and his army of savage grimghouls.
Its desperate race against time as Billy and his friends search for the Heart of Polaris before they fall victim to the impending onslaught.
Curiosity is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it reveals delicious glimpses into faraway place, but at other times it can get a kid into a lot of trouble.
Billy has an attitude problem. While he’s a smart and resourceful character, his self-absorption and tendency to judge others harshly makes it difficult to like him. He’s so focused on pointing out other people’s flaws that he seems completely unaware of his own. To be honest, he’s not a character that I found particularly appealing until much later on in the plot. Eventually he did grow on me, though, and by the end I was rooting for him.
What makes Billy’s adventure so interesting is how his personal flaws are addressed. The secondary characters are actually more well-rounded than the protagonist in some ways, and the plot shines when they gently nudge Billy into looking at certain issues from other points of view. Sermonizing is much less effective that being the change you want to see in the world. By far the best scenes involve other characters quietly showing Billy better ways to behave.
There were punctuation and grammar mistakes that showed up occasionally in this story. While none of them were egregious enough to change the meaning of the sentences, they happened often enough that I was distracted by them.
While the tone and message of this book is well-suited for early elementary students, I would recommend reading it aloud to them if possible. There are vocabulary words in the text that seem a little advanced for this age group, and I suspect the average 6-year-old would get much more out of it if they had an adult or older sibling around to explain certain terms.
The imagery and world building is utterly mesmerizing when this tale is read out loud, though. The authors did a fantastic job of introducing Billy to a colorful cast of characters in settings that sparked my imagination. Most of the jokes are accessible to kids, but there are enough subtle references to historical events that returning to this story over and over again will be appealing to adults as well.
The Crimson and the Frost is a delightful spin on old legends. I heartily recommend it to anyone who loves the pageantry and magic of Christmas.