I’ve been reading a lot of cold books lately: First Light, some nonfiction global warming stuff and now Sarah Beth Durst’s latest, Ice. Does this mean I am ready for winter? Don’t think so. I am enjoying my 14 degrees today, thank you very much.
I had planned on saving Sarah’s book for the Christmas holiday, but I just couldn’t wait after reading Laini Taylor’s recent rave recommendation. So, with very high expectations, I started reading last week. The verdict? Yes Laini, I agree. This one is a winner, and it would indeed be perfect winter reading, especially if you happened to have a giant magical polar bear to snuggle up to.
Cassie Dasent has had an entirely unusual upbringing. She has grown up at an Arctic research station, where her father is a research scientist who studies polar bears. Add to this rare sort of home life the fact that Cassie’s mother has been gone from her life since Cassie was only a little girl. Cassie’s grandmother used to tell Cassie a fairy tale about her mother, saying that Cassie’s mother struck a bargain with the Polar Bear King and then was swept away to the ends of the earth and imprisoned in a troll castle. Cassie always thought that her grandmother’s story was just something exciting and entirely imaginary that her grandmother created for Cassie rather than telling the little girl the tragic truth that her mother had died. Turns out, granny wasn’t lying. The proof? On her 18th birthday, Cassie meets a talking polar bear, the Polar Bear King, and he agrees to rescue Cassie’s mother from the trolls on one condition. Cassie must marry him. Cassie agrees to the deal, and so begins an astonishing adventure as Cassie journeys to the Bear’s ice castle and eventually, across the Arctic and into the boreal forest, on a rescue mission of her own. Her life changes in ways that no fairy tale could have prepared her for.
If you’ve read and loved East by Edith Pattou or Jessica Day George’s Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow then absolutely, you’ll want to read this one. But I have to say, it’s different. It’s not just a straight up expansion or development of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon tale. Sarah’s novel feels entirely modern. The scientific aspect of the story, with the detailed evocation of life on a research station and Cassie’s interest in becoming a scientist who studies the polar bear population feels especially timely. I liked how this emphasis really made the magical element, when it arose, feel all the more fantastical. You could appreciate Cassie’s initial disbelief and then her ultimate wonder at the situation she found herself in, because she is very much situated in the “real world” at the outset. I imagine that Sarah did a lot of research about the experience of being a scientist in an arctic environment. The descriptions of the landscape, its brutal power and beauty, really shine in the narrative. The landscape is a character in the book, for sure. You can see why Cassie is in love with the Arctic. Another strength of the book is the creative explanation for the Polar Bear King’s animal form. I don’t want to reveal too much, but Sarah has come up with something pretty interesting to explain the bear’s ability to transform from animal to human. Cassie is as gutsy as they come, and her adventure is absolutely non-stop. This is a page-turner that goes way beyond the standard fairy-tale revisited. Full marks for a novel full of creativity, perfect evocation of setting, and an unexpected but entirely believable romance.
Ice is published by Simon and Schuster, Margaret K. McElderry Books
(and thanks to Sarah for sending me her copy to read!)