Drew's Reviews > Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce
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's review
Apr 01, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: read_to_kids

Okay, first of all, I feel it necessary to establish that I think William Joyce is an American treasure. A top-tier illustrator of many, many children's books, overflowing with imagination. Check out Santa Calls, or Dinosaur Bob, or the Rolie Polie Olie books (and associated television show, which worked a sort of throwback to the early Disney stuff). Joyce is amazing, and his Moonbot Studios is responsible for this year's Academy Award Winning short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.

All that to say, William Joyce, you are very good at what you do.

Except for the writing part.

Because YIKES! The lesson was right there in the title of your Award-winning movie; in the name of your main character. Less is more! Less is more!

In order to achieve that "magical" quality, a good story has to be lightly seasoned with it. Joyce upended the whole spice rack, creating a nearly undigestible stew of . . . things. Giant bears, sentient moonbeams, mystical forest spirits, an ancient wizard, walking trees, a ghostly boy, a robot djinni, devilish spells, astral projection, spaceships, moonbots, a monastic order of lunar lamas, an army of abominable snowmen . . . and that's just a warm-up.

But the writing is never really "magical" and the story never feels "magical." It's magical because Joyce fills the books with magical things.

Joyce also never slows down. This happens, then that happens, then this, and it's on to that. It's less a novel than an outline of a novel with some connecting phrases.

At about the half-way point, the book seems to decide it has a plot -- a sort of quest -- and the antagonist (a fallen "angel" named Pitch) does his level best to stop Our Heroes. But when everything is neatly solved by magic (a tragic incident early in the book is easily "fixed" with a spell or two) it's hard to feel any sort of peril.

An inside-cover blurb promises that this book is the story of Santa Claus before he was known as Santa Claus. And that blurb is the last time you'll have any suggestion of it. When he's first introduced, Nicholas St. North is a legendary Cossack bandit. By the end of the book, he's a reformed bandit, and . . . that's it.

Granted, this is the first book in the series, so Joyce probably gets around to establishing North's ultimate destiny by the finale, except the future books are supposed to focus on other "Guardians of Childhood." (The second book, recently out, focuses on the Easter Bunny.)

Ironically, one of the problems here is that less isn't always more. In this case, the book could have used more of a focus, more detail, "more matter, less art!" I'm not sure I'll bother with the rest of the series. A book this short shouldn't also be this tedious.
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Reading Progress

April 1, 2012 – Started Reading
April 1, 2012 – Shelved
April 5, 2012 – Finished Reading
April 6, 2017 – Shelved as: read_to_kids

Comments (showing 1-2)

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message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael Poteet Hm. So maybe this is a case of wait for the movie, huh?

Kelly Friis It's an adventure story for those young at heart and still able to grasp the wonder of fairy tales and the innocence of youth. Not the academic self-important criticisms of an English Major.

Forget everything you know about "the perfect balance in storytelling", recapture your 6 or 7 year old self and re-read this, you'll see North is Santa. The other guardians are pretty clear. Although Katherine takes a few minutes to place her. The message is very clear too. Believe in us, make us real and we will always be there to give you solace and comfort.

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