I have to start this review out by admitting that, prior to a gift from a friend to my daughter, I’d never heard of The Brothers Lionheart. Author Astrid Lingdren – of Pippi Longstocking fame – wrote it in the early 1970’s, so I rather have no excuse other than that it never passed my desk before recently.
The book was sent, as I mentioned, to my daughter from a friend of ours, and looked like a lovely little innocent tale that we could enjoy together during our nightly bedtime reading sessions, so it was with that thought that we curled up together on the first night and I read her Chapter One.
I have to admit that, at first, I was a little taken aback and curious as to how my daughter would take the take, as the first chapter (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, it’s literally one of the first things that happens) describes how the main character Rusky and his older brother Jonathan die. I had no idea what the book was about going in, but I can honestly admit that I didn’t expect it to begin with two young boys dying, one of them from an accident, and the other from terrible sickness.
It does, however, get a little lighter and much more intriguing from there. Our narrator, Rusky, is the second to pass, and follows his brother into an afterlife-world known as Nangijala. It is supposed, according to Jonathan, to be a peaceful, wonderful place where people can live their days joyfully and simply, and at first it seems to be just that. However, it transpires that there are terrible things going on in the valley on the other side of the mountains, where a horrible ruler has made life a living hell for the residents there.
The rest of the story follows the journey of the two brothers as they seek to liberate Nangijala from it’s oppressor, all of it seen through the eyes of a young boy who, in his prior life, had seen next to nothing of the world as he lay forever in his sickbed.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t sure, with that first chapter, how my daughter of seven was going to take the story. On top of the book opening with double-death, it also has a lovely, flowery prose that is quite nice, but also a bit olden days, for lack of a better description, so I didn’t know if my modern-day child would really connect with it. I needn’t have worried, because she was hooked from start to finish, asking questions at the end of chapters, and gasping suddenly at important moments when I wasn’t even entirely certain she’d been listening. She was especially surprised and concerned when Katla first showed up, but if you want to know who Katla is you’ll have to read the book for yourself!
But what were my feelings on the book? All in all I have to say that I enjoyed it quite immensely. It was an odd idea to me from the get-go, having the two child characters perish in order to travel to their fantasy adventure land, but it turned out to be a truly wonderful one. It’s a lovely little tale that effectively centers around Rusky learning about himself after spending his entire childhood confined to a bed. The characters are the kind you can get attached to, but are also somehow depicted so that they feel almost like ghosts (ironically) whom are there and are definitely part of the story, and yet somehow don’t seem that important. It’s a difficult idea to get across, but it really comes down to the fact that all that really matters is Rusky and Jonathan, especially Rusky. You want to know what’s going to happen, you want to see him grow and come into himself, and you want him to be the hero that you’re sure he’s meant, somehow, to be. By the end of the story you’re a bit exhausted because of the emotional rollercoaster you’ve gone on with him. It’s difficult to say much more than that because, to be quite honest, it’s just the kind of story you have to read for yourself.
The ending, personally, I thought was a bit of a mixed message. I can’t explain without spoiling it, but let’s just say that I understood where Lindgren was coming from with the ending, but it also gave me a bit of a weird, “I don’t know if this is a good message” kind of feeling. I expect it seemed a little more innocent in the time it was written, but I’m certain I’m not the only one who would see the negative connotation in it today. Even so, if you’re able to close off that bit of your brain that’s cringing a little at that particular thought process and just imagine the situation as it exists in the context of the story, it’s as lovely an ending as you can imagine for the type of tale that it’s attached to.
In conclusion, I’m grateful to have read this story, and even more happy that I read it with my daughter, who immensely enjoyed following the steps of the little boy throughout his journey. A beautiful tale filled with hope and strength and courage where one cannot see such things within himself. Definitely worth a read, especially if you have children to enjoy it with.