But then January came, bringing with it subzero temperatures and piles of snow. And suddenly, I wanted to read about ice and snow. I wanted some sort of comrade in my misery. (I'm writing this sitting on my bed while a space heater blows hot air in my face.)
In the icy and unforgiving north, the lass is born. She is the last of nine children, and her mother is so sick of having children and bitter that this last one is another daughter that she refuses to name her (which is her maternal duty and responsibility). Early in the story, the lass finds the white reindeer, a magical creature who grants the lass a wish. She first wishes for her eldest brother, Hans Peter, to be happy (he came home from a voyage at sea a changed and troubled man). But when the white reindeer refuses, she asks for a name instead. After the white reindeer departs, she discovers that not only did he give her a name but also the ability to understand and converse with animals. One night, a great white bear (an isbjorn) comes to her family's home and begs the lass to come stay with him in a palace for a year. She agrees. At first she is enraptured by the wealth and elegance and beauty all around her. But before long, there are too many unanswered questions about the enchanted castle, the missing servants, the unseen trolls, and a mysterious nightly visitor.
This story is a retelling of the Nordic legend, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." A few years ago, I read East by Edith Pattou, which is a retelling of the same legend. I didn't realize Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow was the same story until I was a few chapters in, and it began to sound really familiar. I remember really liking East except for the ending, which was overly long and drawn out. So I tried not to let my expectations get too high as I was listening to this one. I was really enjoying it, but I was worried the ending was going to fall flat again. Happily, I loved the ending. Everything I didn't like about East's ending was absent in this retelling (mainly, the journey back from the troll castle).
I thought the pacing of this story was perfect. There weren't a lot of moments of the lass wandering aimlessly in a frozen wasteland, which is what I was both dreading and expecting. Even on her journey to the troll's castle (which I'm remembering as being incredibly lonely in East), she has contact with three old women, the four winds, and her pet wolf. (I thought her conversations with the wolf would annoy me, but they didn't. I found them highly entertaining, and I think they helped break up some of the potentially monotonous parts of the story.)
I also thought Jessica Day George worked up to the first climax perfectly (the one that happens in the lass's bedchamber, for those who have read it). I was literally holding my breath while I was listening to it, and I couldn't get my hands to move even though I was supposed to be washing the dishes. (And I even knew what was going to happen since I was familiar with the basic story.)
I felt like this story had a depth that wasn't present in East, mainly because there was more back story and more need for saving and redemption than just for the lass's and the isbjorn's sake. I really, really liked Hans Peter's character and the way his story linked the past with the present.
The audio is narrated by Jessica Roland. I thought she was fine except in her narration of the prince. Oh, he sounded so bad! I think she was trying to make him sound masculine and kind and dashing...and...it just didn't work for me at all.
One of our family's favorite picture book author/illustrators is Jan Brett. She bases many of her books on classic tales of the North. We checked out her Christmas treasury in December, and Aaron and Max fell in love with Trouble With Trolls and Christmas Trolls. As I was listening to Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, I kept thinking, If Jan Brett were to write a YA novel, this would be it. Maybe it was just the setting or the abundance of trolls or all the snow, but that's what this book reminded me of, and it made me love it even more.