Sarah Beth Durst's Ice is a modern re-telling of the Scandinavian fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon". Personally, I'm not a big fairy tale reader, and I had never run across this particular story. Thus my interest in the book was based on the fact that the premise sounded intriguing, not because I had any prior familiarity with the storyline.
Ice describes a romance between Cassie, a human girl, and the Polar Bear King. As a young girl, Cassie is told a fantastical story about her family's history, in which Cassie's mother, Gail, is the adopted daughter of the North Wind, and the promised bride of the Polar Bear King. When Gail falls in love with a human man, instead of marrying the polar bear, Gail's angry father sends her "east of the sun and west of the moon". There she is captured by Trolls, and kept from her human family (including her infant daughter, Cassie). Cassie, naturally enough, believes this to be a fanciful family story. Right up until the day that she meets a 12-foot-tall talking Polar Bear named Bear. Bear tells Cassie that she is his promised bride, and asks her to travel with him to his home. What follows is a dizzying adventure set against a backdrop of ice and snow.
The first part of Ice, depicting a young girl and a monster getting to know one another in a magical castle, reminded me quite a bit of Beauty and the Beast. Ice, however features the modern twist that Cassie is a polar researcher, product of a science-based upbringing, who is skeptical of all of the magic that she sees. She's also someone determined to make a difference in her own right, rather than just live under someone else's protection. I enjoyed the world-building in this section, as well as the introduction of the characters, but found myself waiting for something more active to happen.
I shouldn't have worried. In the second part of the book, Cassie sets off on a dangerous quest, risking her life for Bear. This part of the story is filled with suffering and peril, much of it quite creatively rendered. I think some of this might be a bit dark for middle schoolers, but that high school-age readers will find it compelling. Personally, I stayed up late to finish the book, because I simply had to know what would happen next.
Cassie is an intriguing character. She's quite capable (having been raised by her father in an Arctic research station), and rather alarmingly (though perhaps realistically for her situation) selfish. She's a risk-taker, and stubborn to the point of recklessness when she makes up her mind about something. I can't say that I liked her, exactly, but I appreciated her transformation over the course of the book.
Really, though, the star of this book is the starkly beautiful icy setting. Durst seems to genuinely respect, and even revere, the Arctic, in the same way that Cassie does. Here are a couple of examples, to give you a sense of what I mean:
"Cold seared into her, slicing her, and her face mask instantly frosted. She took a deep breath of night air. It felt brittle and sharp in her throat, as if the air were filled with shards of glass. This was exactly what she needed to clear her mind. The piercingly cold air soothed her, as it always did." (Page 25)
"Several long hours later, Cassie heard ice crunch under the bear's paws. Granules crackled in the monumental Arctic silence. She straightened and thumped her muscle-sore thighs. The bear had slowed and was simply walking now, across the shimmering frozen sea. The earth was painted in white and blue streaks of ice, reflecting the sky, and the low, pale sun." (Page 35)
Ice has just enough detail about survival techniques in the Arctic to feel authentic, without bogging the reader down with excessive detail. The setting is so three-dimensional that readers will want to pull another blanket over them while reading.
Fans of fairy tale retellings and supernatural romances won't want to miss Ice. It's an engaging blend of modern science and magical fairy tale, with a memorable setting. Ice is the perfect book to sweep the reader away on a cold winter's night. Recommended for teen and adult readers.
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Wondrous Reads, Angieville, Book Aunt, Tina's Book Reviews, Rhiannon Hart, The Book Smugglers, Shelf Elf, Book Nut, and Laini Taylor, among others. See also Sherrie Petersen's post with mini-reviews of three novelizations of the East of the Sun and West of the Moon fairy tale.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).