Review: Fairy Tale

Book Review: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

Warning: I try to keep the spoilers at minimum, but there will be hints of major events if you are unfamiliar with the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Ice is a version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon which seeks to both retain the magical fantasy of the fairy tale and endeavor to place it in the modern world in a believable setting. I don’t claim to have read every version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon; only those versions that I could get my hands on. Which isn’t really all that many. But this is the only story I know of that’s taken a modern, technological setting and made the story nevertheless magical.

The setting is an research station in Northmost Alaska, where people chase polar bears on snow mobiles over ice for a living, including Cassie, the main character, who is the daughter of one of the researchers. Every chapter opens with a record of the longitude, latitude and altitude. This gets interesting when the bear leads Cassie to his palace of ice, which is located at a latitude of 91 degrees and indeterminate longitude.

An added twist is that Cassie’s late mother was, according to her paternal grandmother, the daughter of the north wind. Cassie thinks of this as a metaphorical story, up until certain events lead her to begin suspecting otherwise.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by the opening of the story. Cassie, like many incarnations of the White Bear’s lover before her, sees the White Bear and becomes fascinated by him to the point of obsession. When she makes the inevitable mistake that her character must make, the devastation of her happy life literally falling to pieces around her is one unrivaled by any other incarnation that I know of with the possible exception of Psyche.

To me, this devastation is where the story truly begins, so it was alright that I wasn’t terribly engaged before this point. Because after this, Cassie adopts a fierce determination that made her a heroine to be reckoned with. The story creates more obstacles for Cassie to overcome than other incarnations of the story—but only in the physical sense, for emotionally she is never truly daunted. She uses every resource at her disposal and swears that she will accomplish what she set out to do.

While not the best of fairy tale adaptations, this was certainly an entertaining one. Its weakness as far as I was concerned was mostly in the fact that it takes so long for Cassie to gain her appeal as a character. For the entire first half of the book, she felt no different from the unnamed daughter of a pauper that her character is in the fairy tale. Certainly, she has aspirations and dreams, memories and emotions, and—most importantly—a name to keep us from getting confused. But the difference between a fairy tale and a novel is that the fairy tale is shorter and therefore needs less detail—like names—and is generally more about the story than character development. Because a novel is longer, on some level the characters have to be more engaging. Of course, I didn’t stop reading—but then again, I had the motivation of the fairy tale that preceded this novel to keep reading. Even with my love of the fairy tale, I’ve never felt compelled to read this novel more than once.

Though an enjoyable read, book left a rather more fleeting impression than it may have had had Cassie had a stronger character that I could empathize with more from the beginning. But nevertheless, I enjoyed it. Thus, my rating is 6/10.

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