Top positive review
An old fairy tale with a new spin--weaving Norse mythology with actual history, and one heroine's breathtaking adventure
on May 8, 2015
Until reading this book, I had never heard of the fairy tale, "east of the sun, west of the moon". But when a librarian friend highly recommended this story, I looked up the old tale to get a better understanding of it before diving into this. I came away very impressed with this new interpretation of the old story, and in fact, I actually prefer THIS version over the original tale, as it fleshes out the backstory and characters, and leaves us with something on par with "Beauty and the Beast".
In the villages of Norway, sometime during the 16th century, a poor mapmaker and his superstitious wife tend to their seven children; especially keeping an eye on their youngest daughter, Rose. There is an ancient belief that children inherit the qualities of the direction in which they are born, so the wife has a child for each point of the compass, save for North, because it's believed that North-born babies are wild, unpredictable, intelligent, and destined to break their mothers' hearts because they all leave home to travel to the far ends of the earth . As it turns out, Rose is actually the last of EIGHT kids; born to replace one that died of an illness. To keep her close, Rose’s mother lied and told her she had been East-born; never revealing that Rose was actually a North-born. But destiny cannot be denied, and when another sibling falls gravely ill, a talking white bear shows up at the family's door; promising that if Rose leaves home and journeys with him, the family will become happy, healthy, and wealthy. Wanting to save her family, Rose jumps at the chance for an adventure, and leaves with the bear, who whisks her away to a magical castle. There, she discovers the true identity of the white bear...and when her actions harm her new friend and evoke the wrath of a selfish Troll Queen, all of Rose's strength, courage, wits, and new found love will be put to the ultimate test as she braves the deadly Arctic Circle to rescue her bear friend and stop the Troll Queen; an adversary who lives in an ice palace that lies "east of the sun and west of the moon".
Simply put, Edith Pattou has created an epic. Her descriptions of Norwegian homesteading; the wildlife and harsh conditions of the Arctic and sailing its unrelenting seas, and the magic of the enchanted castle and ice palace were so vivid, I could picture everything clearly in my head. The author definitely did her research in telling how life was way back when; down to the details of what people wore, ate, and believed in. And such details are never confusing; they're explained in a way that's easily understandable, yet not textbook boring. And I found it very clever how the basics of the old fairy tale were rewoven into this new setting; adding in plot points about the superstitions behind birth directions and compass points, as well as recasting the magical North, South, East, and West winds of the old story to be actual people who help Rose on her adventure.
Which brings me to the characters. Although the story is told in the first person, we actually alternate view points between Rose, her father, her brother, the white bear, and the Troll Queen; all of which have their own unique voices and perspectives on the fairy tale unfolding. Rose especially is a great character and role model. Although she's always adventurous, she starts off much more wishful and reckless, but over the course of her harrowing journey to save her friend, she learns to be more patient and careful with her actions, and actually has to WORK to earn her happy ending. While she gets understandably afraid at times, and makes more than a few mistakes, she finds the will and courage to power on through and do the right thing; determined to write her own destiny and not just give in to fate.
The only nitpick I could give is that the last act seemed just a tad rushed to me. The villain is defeated rather quickly, and the reasoning and origin behind her white bear servant is left vague. I seemed to like the journey getting there more than the destination itself. But I can forgive it, as the weaving of the classic fairy tale with old Nordic superstitions and Norse mythology and Inuit beliefs had me hooked and made up for it.
On the whole, I learned a lot of history about the ancient times of the Arctic, as well as discovered a new fairy tale I had never heard before; all while enjoying a breathtaking adventure. If you like your magic mysterious, and good old fashioned girl power, this is the book for you.