Fenris and Mott is Greg Van Eekhout’s charming middle grade fantasy-adventure, published in 2022. Mott—short for Martha—is a Pennsylvanian recently uprooted and transplanted to southern California, and Fenris is… well, Fenris is the wolf from Norse mythology, destined to eat the moon and usher in endless winter, endless darkness, and the age of the sword.
Mott is no stranger to broken promises, and when the book opens, she has come off a long string of them. Her absentee father is famous for making promises he doesn’t keep. Her mother moved them to Culver City on the promise of a well-paying job, from which Mom was immediately laid off. This meant they had to move to a different apartment, one with a no-dog policy, thus making her mom’s promise of getting Mott a dog impossible too. While Mott is trying to complete a root beer review for her social media channel, in an alley behind a convenience store, she hears something mewling and rustling in the recycle dumpster. At first, Mott’s afraid it’s a rat, but she is tender-hearted, and decides even a rat shouldn’t be left to starve in a dumpster, so she follows the sound to a box. When she opens it, she finds, not a rat, but a fluffy blue-eyed puppy. After a moment of soul-searching, Mottt promises the pup she’ll take care of it.
Mott takes the loveable ball of fluff to a nearby animal shelter, and the volunteer there tells her the puppy is not a dog but a white wolf. When he tries to put a leash on the pup, it freaks out and runs away, crashing through a glass door—unharmed. Running after the dog, Mott encounters a man in strange clothing who talks funny, and tells her he is Gorm of the Norse, here to stop the wolf pup Fenris from eating the moon and ushering in Ragnarok. Then Fenris eats him.
Fenris is both a silly, adorable puppy and a ravening monster, and as the tale progresses, Mott’s options dwindle. She meets a Valkyrie, Thrudi, who reluctantly agrees to help protect Mott, but it becomes clearer and clearer than Mott will literally have to decide whether to save the pup, to whom she gave her word, or save the world.
This becomes more urgent as Fenris eats more things; an A-list action star, some cars, a dead man’s hand, and even the nice lady from the Wolf Sanctuary. Meanwhile, the L.A. hills are on fire, there are wildfires in Australia and tidal waves across the world. Thrudi and Mott are being chased by the Norse god of war, who schemed to make Fenris his weapon by forcing him to eat the Rune of Annihilation.
Van Eekhout ups the stakes and the laughs. The book is filled with action and tension without being truly scary. Mott’s Mom is an actual mom, a strong character who gets caught up in the pre-Ragnarok chaos after there’s a mummy outbreak at the museum where she works. Against supernatural monsters, gods, and destiny, Mott has only the power of her word, and her ingenuity. Thrudi’s loyalty and courage help, but ultimately only Mott can decide what to do.
The book is fast-paced and good fun. There is a real dilemma for Mott and the rest of us, because we really like Fenris. Without being heavy-handed or preachy, Van Eekhout brings in the fact of climate change and the human responsibility for it.
Fenris and Mott is a wonderful tale with lovable characters that will be lots of fun for your middle-grader, and you might like it too.