Author: Sarah Beth Durst
On the Shelves: YA fantasy, Retellings
“When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.
Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.
That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice”(Goodreads 2013)
First and Foremost: this is a fairy tale. Therefore, abandon the logic with which you would normally review books with, in regards to the story. For example, if this were a regular YA novel, I’d be seriously concerned about Stockholm Syndrome (ah, ever the favourite debated problem with “beauty and the beast” stories), along with some other points, which I’ve edited out here to avoid spoilers. Normally, things like this would make me put the book down in disgust and never pick it up again.
This is a modern re-telling of the Norwegian Fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, a tale which has somehow wormed it’s way into my subconscious and become one of my favourite fairy tales. For those who are not familiar with the fairy tale, here is the basic outline of the general story: a poor farmer and his family are down on their luck, living in the harsh winter lands and they are starving due to the lack of money and crops, a talking polar bear appears at the door one night (as you do), and promises the father that all their families ills and wants will be healed, if he promises his youngest daughter to go with the bear. The daughter, despite her families wishes, goes with the bear to save her family. However there is a curse upon the bear, who is actually a Prince and when the daughter accidentally breaks the curse, the bear is taken by the one who cursed him, the Troll Queen. The daughter must go in search of the bear/Prince…but how do you find somewhere which has no specific location? In a place that is “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” ? I don’t even remember when I first read the tale, but I have always loved it and when I saw that there were a couple of re-tellings available, I had to give them a try
But you know what? This is a fairy tale, it never claims to be anything else. And if, like me, you read a lot of fairy tales, you know that this story follows that formula to a T. It’s classic, and beautifully written. And despite the above factors, Cassie is an enjoyable and feisty heroine. I enjoyed the relationship between Bear and Cassie, and again it echoed the countless fairy tales I have read, full of curses, tricks, romance and magic.
I zoomed through this book in one sitting, and enjoyed every page. Even with the clichés. There are two more books on my “to-read” list which are retellings of this story, and ICE has set the standard for them pretty high!