This is a retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” which is pretty much the perfect halfway point between “Cupid and Psyche” and “Beauty and the Beast” with a wintry flavor (the tale is Norwegian). This particular novel is set in Norway a couple centuries back. It’s about a young woman (referred to as “the lass”) who can communicate with animals after saving a mystical deer as a child. When she is an older teen, a polar bear comes to take her to live with him in his palace. She must stay there for a year and a day in order to free him from his enchantment. Very similar to “Beauty and the Beast,” except that the resolution to the story is nowhere near as simple. There is far more adventure.
This woman has the fairy tale narrative voice down pat. It’s that old-timey, magical storyteller voice, only it is drawn out for the length of the book. Kudos. Big time. Also, she still manages an authentic main character perspective in spite of (or in tandem with) this narrative style. More big kudos. The atmosphere was definitely there.
Nonetheless, here is what I would have liked to see:
1) The lass getting to know the ice bear more. I feel like that aspect was more told than shown (i.e. it was written that they talked, but few of the conversations were written out). It felt like there wasn’t enough substance for a romantic relationship to exist by the end of the book.
2) A not-so-speedy final third. This was definitely the best part of the book. It was gorgeous, and there were so many other possibilities that could have been explored.
3) More elaboration on the happily-ever-after. It wrapped up just a bit too quickly.
4) Less repetition and routine with the lass trying to figure out what is going on with the bear, the ice palace, and the curse. Most “Beauty and the Beast” type stories have the heroine exploring the castle and searching for clues. I realize that, but I think those parts should either bring a new and exciting discovery each time or should be cut down on.
From reading this, you may think it sounds like I didn’t really like the book, but I liked it quite a bit. As I was saying, the last third or so is beautiful. That’s when the adventure really begins and there are elements of fantasy that we don’t see in most other fairy tales
— winds with personalities, three elderly women who are not evil and are not the fates, and a girl who saves a boy from trolls in a castle, to name a few. I also like the sub-plot that was interwoven, with the lass’ favorite brother and his long lost love. I would honestly read this again some day. It is different from the whiny teenager perspectives we get so often even in fantasy. This is refreshing and original (well, not technically because it’s based on a fairy tale, but you get the idea).