Hellboy: The Bones of Giants, by Christopher Golden

Hellboy The Bones of Giants, by Christopher Golden book coverGenre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Pocket Books Star
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by James Michael White

Have you read this book?
Why not rate it! 1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars


In his forward to Christopher Golden’s 2001 novel, Hellboy: The Bones of Giants, eponymous comic creator Mike Mignola wrote, “I think The Lost Army is great … but Bones of Giants is better. A lot better. Chris is a better writer than he was four years ago.”

He’s referring, of course, to their first collaboration, the 1997 novel, Hellboy and the Lost Army, and when he says the later effort is better, he’s not kiddinglden really has improved as a writer.

More about that later.

See, what’s at stake this time for the big red-skinned devil dude and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is this: a fisherman on the coast of Sweden has found a gigantic human skeleton clutching an ancient war hammer. The Swedes want the help of the BPRD to investigate the findings, figure out if the artifacts present any cause for worry.

Oh they do.

Boy, how they do.

Turns out that hammer attracts lightning, and when Hellboy and fish-dude pal Abe Sapien visit the coast with a cadre of archaeologists and heavies from the Swedish government, Hellboy gets zapped at just the moment he takes up that hammer. It fuses to his stone right hand, at the same time investing in him the spirits of the defunct skeleton and Mjollnir, which happens to be the name of that personality-possessing hammer.

From thence forward this comic-inspired tale hurls us headlong into Norse mythology sprung to life as Hellboy and Abe discover that the hammer has a mission all its own and that its resurfacing in the world of men is no simple coincidence.

See, a mad professor is about to raise Thrym, the soulless king of giants, thus bringing the tumult of Ragnarok and the age of gods and monsters back to the world, albeit of a Norse kind. Amid this jumble of critters come soul-collecting Valkyrie, sword-wielding Svartalves, dwarvish Nidavellim, reanimated corpses, and a talking squirrel.

It’s up to Hellboy, Abe, and the daughter of the mad professor to put a stop to all this nonsense before a) it becomes unstoppable and b) Hellboy’s personality becomes subsumed by that of the hammer and o-bloodthirsty-he-who-once-wielded-it.

In almost every way this Hellboy outing from Christopher Golden is superior to his first, exercising more assured and effective imagery, such as this instance, when the mad professor’s daughter, Pernilla, first glimpses Hellboy and Abe from afar:

“…a pair of figures came into view as they approached the nearest streetlamp, half a block away. One was small and thin, dressed in shades of gray. He wore a fedora, its brim pulled low enough that the light from the streetlamp could not reach it. The other man was enormous, his long coat swaying around him. For a moment, in the wash of light from above, Pernilla was convinced his skin was actually red, but a moment later the streetlamp was behind them, and she realized that could not be.”

The clarity of the vision evoked here is among the sharpest and most realized, but the happy news is that it’s not the only such instance, following on the heels, as it does, of a nice little scene setting up Pernilla’s character in ways altogether more sophisticated and with more finesse than The Lost Army managed at any of its high points.

Here and elsewhere Christopher Golden takes time to develop neatly interlaced conjunctions of setting, telling detail, and transitional events (for instance, Pernilla is sitting on the front steps of her flat, listening to music, when she makes the observation above), that work to evoke a sense of character both more interesting, engaging, and effective than inelegant “say so’s” of the earlier work. Rather than so often being told that a character is of a particular temperament, we infer it from such moments as in these brief examples. By this trick alone, Golden demonstrates his increased ability as a writer.

The focus of such improvements remains clearly upon the central characters, and they benefit from it, but there are additional tricks up Golden’s new-and-improved stylistic sleeve. He’s much better at evoking and sustaining those tricky things called mood and atmosphere, the very matters by which readers hang upon every page to see what happens next — which is not, as some might say, simply a function of exciting plotting.

The upshot here is that The Bones of Giants presents a much more pleasurable reading experience than The Lost Army. No longer is the work so spare an embarkation into staid formulae, but instead a more nuanced and accomplished one that makes entertaining use of Norse mythology.

Hellboy fans should be pleased.

Liked it? Take a second to support SFReader on Patreon!

Leave a Reply