Published by Bloomsbury USA Children's on February 1st 2011
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, MG Books
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Also by this author: Wednesdays in the Tower, Princess of the Midnight Ball
Blessed-or cursed-with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she's known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when an isbjorn (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn't hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servants. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who's been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he's forced to marry a troll princess.
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is a pleasing middle-grade retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, but it never quite pulled me in the way George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball did. There are some wonderful touches in the book: the Norwegian and Old Norse words and setting, the white stag episode at the beginning, the Lass’s wolf companion, the way the Lass (the pika) has no name and what that means to her and to the story. I also loved the older brother, and how hints of his story emerge over time and increase in importance. The trolls are suitably unpleasant, and the castle and its servants are portrayed in a way that increases suspense and adds a tiny frisson of dread.
The problem lies in the two main characters, the Lass and the isbjorn (polar bear), and in the relationship between them — or maybe I should say, the lack of a relationship. They have some interactions, but there’s nothing to really draw them together, to cause the Lass to fall in love with him enough that she would undergo a long, difficult, even terrifying journey to save him. Contrasted with the very real love that the older brother has for the woman he lost, the Lass’s relationship with the isbjorn lacks depth, and leaves a weakness in the middle of the story that it never completely overcomes. I found myself wishing, once or twice, that George had focused on the brother and his lost love instead of the Lass and the isbjorn, because their story is in some ways more compelling.
If you are either a Jessica Day George afficionado or a fan of fairy tale retellings in general and this fairy tale in particular (and I am all three), Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is worth reading. The storytelling is quite good overall, as you would expect from George. And as I said, she has incorporated a number of touches that make her retelling stand out. Just don’t expect much more depth or development from the main characters than you would get in a traditional fairy tale.
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