“Thank you, Mother,” Askeladden said in a lofty tone. “I think I shall sleep here tonight, to rest up while this storm blows itself out, and then I shall be off after the bear.”
“An excellent plan, my son,” Frida said. “Here, have some more stew, and some bread and cheese. You need to keep up your strength. And before you leave tomorrow, I’ll pack you a bag with plenty of dried meat and cheese and bread, for the hunt.”
“You will regret this,” the lass said.
She was speaking to Askel, but she never knew if he heard her. Her gaze was fixed on the little window beside the door. The shutter had flapped loose when Askel had come in, and she had not yet closed it. The greased reindeer hide pane barely let the light filter in when the sun was shining, but now she thought she could see the snow swirling outside. It seemed to make shapes: an isbjørn and the shambling form of a troll.
“You will regret this,” she repeated, her voice no more than a whisper. “We all will.”
Author: Jessica Day George
From Goodreads: Blessed—or cursed—with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she’s known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when an isbjorn (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn’t hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servents. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who’s been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he’s forced to marry a troll princess
Notes: This book appealed to me on several fronts: first, by being a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales; second, by being another book by the author of sweet little Tuesdays at the Castle; and third—which I did not find out till I opened it—by giving its heroine the ability to talk to animals, which is one of my favorite magical tropes.
It made for pleasant reading. East of the Sun and West of the Moon is a difficult tale to re-tell well; it doesn’t typically work as a romance on account of the hero being a white bear for most of the story, and scenes like riding on the four winds and visiting a castle full of trolls do not make for easy depiction. Regarding the latter, however, George happens to be a particularly good worldbuilder, especially for a middle grade writer. Simple though the narrative is, the details are thoughtful and plentiful and sensory.
Regarding the former—the matter of a romance between a man enchanted into bear form and a young human girl—it’s all very straightforward and tasteful. I’d have liked to see the bear-man developed more thoroughly, as George showed herself perfectly capable of making a non-human character affectionate and interesting in Tuesdays (which, to be fair, is a more recent work), but the story focused primarily on ‘the lass’, who begins the story with no name, and her brother Hans Peter. Both of them are quite lovable, as is the lass’s pet wolf, Rollo.
The retelling is set in Norway amid a Narnia-esque extended winter, which gives the lass a little world-saving to do along with hunting down her lost bear-man. It allows for a very traditional reworking of the tale, with most or all of the usual elements included and with the new twists as developments of the basic story rather than outside concepts twisting the tale itself.
I like retellings just about any way I can get them, and enjoyed the vividness of the setting and the old-style fairy tale feel of this one. It’s not a hefty book or one that left me with a lot of clear discussion points—at least, not ones that don’t involve spoilers; I can think of one possibly interesting debatable that would spoil one of the nicest little additions to the story—but it was a worthwhile read and a genuinely good addition to the realm of re-told classic tales.