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Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

In the fairy tale mood, I was looking for something to follow up Master of Shadows. Jessica Day George's Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow looked like just the ticket. A retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale, I was both excited and nervous. For various reasons I have a hard time getting into retellings of this fairy tale and, though I did enjoy Edith Pattou's East, I've been hoping ever since to find a version I liked better. And I found one. I first loved the cover. I like the profile shot. This girl looks like she's ready to take on the frozen tundra. The story follows a girl called "the lass." The last of nine children, she had the gall to be born a girl and, out of spite, her mother refuses to give her a name. The family refers to her as pika, or little girl. Her oldest brother Hans Peter is the one who calls her "the lass," and the two of them are the closest of all the siblings. The story follows the fairy tale pretty closely, but George manages to fit in some twists and new angles that I found very refreshing.

Many elements of this tale are a hard sell in a novel. The family who is willing to give their daughter up to a random snow bear. The girl who lets a stranger climb into bed with her every night and then falls in love with said snow bear enough to take on a troll queen to save his life. George's version of the tale addresses these issues to some extent. The girl is the unwanted ninth child (and a daughter) and therefore expendable. Particularly when the random snow bear offers wealth and opportunity in exchange for their daughter. The girl is lonely in the palace of ice where the walls smell of rotting meat and no one will answer her questions. After it becomes clear the stranger is not going to hurt her, his presence next to her at night is a comfort and a ward against loneliness. And when the lass decides to take on the troll queen, she is doing it not only for the enchanted bear, but the various servants who befriended her in the palace and then disappeared or died as a result of their kindness. I still struggle with the central relationship. It seems there's never enough of a connection for me. That said, the story desperately needed fleshing out and George rises to the challenge. Her deft touch with Norse traditions, language, and everyday life adds a welcome layer of warm reality to this icy tale.

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