Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Jessica Day George
For ages 12 and up
Bloomsbury , 2013   ISBN: 978-1619631847

The girl was the last child born to Jarl Oskarson, a poor woodcutter, and Frida, his bitter wife. Frida was so annoyed that her ninth child was yet another girl that she refused to even name her; and so the child was known as pika, a word which meant “girl” in the northern land where they lived.

When the pika was nine, her eldest brother, Hans Peter, came home. Hans Peter was no longer the lively and handsome young man he had once been. He was bent over, old before his time, and afflicted with a terrible sadness that never seemed to go away. Hans Peter was always kind and gentle to pika, and he called her “lass,” an Englander name that she liked and by which she was known.

One day the lass’s brother Einer arrived at the family cottage in a very agitated state. He told everyone that a white reindeer had been seen in the village. Soon, all the children, including the lass, were out in the cold dark night seeking out the creature, for it was said that if you captured it the magical animal would give you a gift. For a poor family like theirs a magical gift could change their lives forever.

The lass found the reindeer near a small stream, and to her horror she saw that the poor animal’s antlers where tangled up in a bramble thicket. Without giving one thought to gifts and wishes, the lass set about trying to free the animal, getting cut by the sharp thorns in the process. When the animal was finally free, she did not try to restrain it to claim her gift. However the reindeer, grateful for her help, offered her a boon all the same.

The lass asked the reindeer to free her brother Hans Peter from the gloom that consumed him, but this was not something the reindeer could do. He told the lass that Hans Peter was cursed and beyond his aid. The reindeer could give her a different kind of gift, which is how the lass finally got a name all of her own.

Not long after she got home, the lass realized that the reindeer had given her another gift, the ability to understand the speech of animals. She became well known in the region for her gift for healing, calming, and taming animals. By the time she was sixteen, her ability was such that she was able to help out her family by earning gifts of food that the people she helped gave her. At this time she was also given a puppy to care for, which, it turned out, was at least part wolf.

When the lass was seventeen, a white bear was seen in the area. While the lass’ brother Askel was out hunting it, the enormous ice bear came to her home and made an offer. It would enrich the lass’s family if she would go and live with him for a year. Wanting to help her family, the lass agreed to go and thus, with Rollo the wolf running alongside, the lass traveled on the ice bear’s back to his magical castle in the land of ice and snow.

At the castle the lass was treated with great kindness. She was given beautiful clothes to wear, and some curious servants – a selkie, a faun, a pixie, and other magical beings – took care of her and cooked her delicious meals. The ice bear kept her company at times and the only thing that really bothered the lass was the fact that someone or something would climb into her bed at night and sleep there. She thought that the visitor was a man but she was not sure.

Being a curious person the lass began to “snoop,” trying to understand why the castle was there, and why she had to stay with the ice bear for a year. Thanks to her brother Hans Peter, the lass could read the strange script that was written on objects and structures in the castle. She read about a beautiful princess who searched for love. The tale seemed to be romantic, but at times it had menacing overtones that the lass found confusing.

As the days went by, the lass was able to make more sense of the puzzle, and she figured out not only that the castle was the domain of a troll princess, but that her brother Hans Peter had been there at some point. She came to understand that the ice bear, and all the servants, were the princess’s prisoners. The lass longed to run away, but she had given her word to the ice bear and so she remained. She became more determined than ever to break the curse that bound the ice bear to the troll princess, even though she was warned by many not to do so. It was only when it was too late that she realized that she should have heeded the warnings.

This wonderful novel takes readers on an adventure that is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. Based on the Nordic legend East of the sun, West of the Moon, the tale it packed with rich descriptions and colorful characters. The narrative titillates us with a mystery that slowly reveals itself as the story unfolds.