Matt Haig’s latest effort (soon to be followed up by quasi-sequel, The Girl Who Saved Christmas) is a treat. Ostensibly a festive tale for kids, its story is one that can be read and re-read at any time of year, by kids of all ages. Even ones in their forties. Probably older. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much whilst reading.
So, the story then. Told with sharp prose and Matt Haig’s delightful sense of humour (tinged with darkness and tragedy, naturally) and accompanied by Chris Mould’s wonderful illustrations, A Boy Called Christmas tells the tale of Santa Clause before he was Santa Clause – when he was just Nikolas, a lonely boy who lives in a tiny isolated house in the frozen lands of Finland.
And no wonder he’s lonely. Nikolas witnessed his mum die after she fell down a well, sees his dad struggle to make ends meet every day, and his best friends are a mouse and a doll made out of an old turnip. If that doesn’t tug on your heartstrings, then I’m not sure even this story will breathe life into your cold, dead soul.
Trekking through the hazardous landscape, Nikolas encounters an angry bear, a friendly reindeer, comes close to dying on more than one occasion, becomes embroiled in the political machinations of a tiny magical tyrant, liberates a prisoner from a group of bounty hunters working for the King, and finds his True Calling In Life.
Nikolas’s story is about family. It’s about friends. It’s about magical reindeer and redeeming a paranoid elven society that wants to close its borders so it might save itself from the corrupting influence of humans. It’s about taking risks and believing in magic. It’s about how a child’s imagination allows him to adore even the most filthy and decrepit of toys year after year, as though it was a brand new still-in-its-box Buzz Lightyear action figure.
Oh, and some of the characters are delightfully twisted. The malicious Aunt Carlotta possesses the same tangible cruelty that made Roald Dahl’s antagonists so terrifying, and there’s the murderous pixie who literally cannot lie. Probably my favourite character in the novel, she’s at once achingly earnest and unabashedly wicked, and that’s not an easy combination to pull off.
I’ll add reading this book it to my annual Christmas traditions, along with watching Die Hard, promising and failing to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, and watching—but not admitting to it—Love Actually.
Since this is my first review and I’ve yet to come up with a numerical rating, I’ll award it 5 out of 5 Christmas crackers.
A Boy Called Christmas is available at Amazon.
Disclaimer: I have in no way been paid for this review. I am enrolled on Amazon’s Affiliates programme, which means I get a paid a small percentage of any physical purchases that come from use of the link. Don’t worry – this in no way costs you anything, just a small consideration from the vendor for sending you their way!