Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

And speaking of icy romance...Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is a retelling of one of my favourite romance-oriented fairy tales, the ancient Scandinavian story "East of the Sun and West of the Moon". I first came under the spell of this story when I read the version so breathtakingly illustrated by P. J. Lynch. Jessica Day George's version spins out this tale into a novel comparable in quality to such favourites as Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine or Beauty by Robin McKinley.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow follows the story of a young woman called Pika (or "lass") who lives "long ago and far away, in the land of ice and snow." Her mother dislikes her (and in fact refused to give her a name when she was born) but she is close to her father and her mysterious older brother Hans Peter, a former sailor haunted by memories "too terrible to relate'. The Pika learns a mysterious written language from Hans Peter, and gains the ability to talk to animals through an adventure of her own. But the real adventure begins the night that an isbjorn, or icebear, comes to her home and promises her family wealth if she will come and live with him for a year and a day.

I love the frozen landscape of this story. The vast snowy distances, the palace made of ice, the north, south, east and west winds who buffet Pika along as she nears the climax of her quest, all combine to create a wilder, earthier, more vigorous sense of enchantment than inhabits most fairy-tale romances. As befits a modern retelling, it is Pika's persistent curiosity and intelligence that allows her to understand the scope and source of the ice-bear's enchantment. Elements of the ancient story of Cupid and Psyche also weave their way through the tale, adding a mythological resonance. Altogether, this is a lovely, satisfying addition to the fairy tale cannon for tween and teen girls.

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