Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ICE by Sarah Beth Durst

"Once upon a time, the North Wind said to the Polar Bear King, 'Steal me a daughter, and when she grows, she will be your bride..."

Little Cassie Desent was raised on this fairy tale, just as many children are raised on fairy-tales. The only differance was that her Grandmother claimed this one was true. And because of it, Cassie's mother is held prisoner in a troll castle, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," and Cassie is someday destined to be the bride of the Polar Bear King.

Of course, as Cassie grows older, she learns that fairy tales are not true and she puts aside her dreams of freeing her mother for more realistic dreams of working at her father's research center, studying the lives of the artic Polar Bears.

And then, one day, the Polar Bear King comes, and Cassie learns that the fairy tale was true and she now has a chance to save her mother... but to do so, she must give up everything familiar and venture out into a world of ice, magic, and promises that cannot be broken.

With the plenthora of novels that have suddenly appeared based on the fairy-tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," I can't believe that I never read it in childhood. However, I've fallen quite in love with it and am enjoying the differant adaptations out there.

"Ice" is quite differant from the last novel I reviewed on this tale. Whereas that one stuck very close to the original fairy-tale, "Ice" travels it's own road. Sometimes for better... sometimes for stranger.

"Ice" is first and foremost a love story. It's powerful because it contrasts many differant kinds of love, even though the central love is the romance between Cassie and the Polar Bear King. It's beautiful and moving and not at all what I expected.

The theme of this story might be stated as - "How far will you go to protect those you love?" And it shows the beauty of unconditional love over, and over again, going further than I've ever seen a YA book go before (Regina Doman, of course, excepted). Cassie and Bear will do anything for each other - and not only for each other, but for their families as well. And ultimately, it comes down to - could you save one person at the sacrifice of another?

There's a well developed mythology at the heart of this story, that may capture your interest or repel you. The Polar Bear King is one of a race of semi-spiritual beings called Munaqsri who are basically "soul-keepers." Each race - animal, plant, human, - has at least one Munaqsri who watches over deaths and births to make sure that every soul is captured at death and given to a new baby at birth.

This may sound odd, but Durst actually makes it work quite well. You have to accept it in a mythological sense - in the same way that you'd read "The Illiad" or tales of the Norse Gods - or fairy tales in general. It's a concept that allows talking bears and mermaids and naiads and the four Winds to cross paths seamlessly. So if you accept it as a fairytale (as I did) and not as a real theological concept, then you should have no problem enjoying this story.

I will say that it's intended for an older audience. Probably 16+. Not that there is anything really bad, but Cassie and her Bear King (who takes a human form at night) DO get married right away and there are referances to a "wedding night" and bearing children to carry on the Munaqsri. It's very tastefully and appropriately done, but I wouldn't hand this book to a 13-year-old. Unless, of course, they'd already read all the Twilight books, in which case I'd hand it over easily enough. ;)

This is not a conventional story. But it is an entertaining and intriguing one that is well-plotted and engaging. It falters a bit on its very last note - but that's the only sour drop in a bowl of otherwise very pleasing sweets.