Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow was the only one of Jessica Day George's fairy tale retellings I had not read and recently decided that I needed to remedy that. I had put it off for so long because the more I love a retelling's source material, the more critical I tend to be of the book. When it comes to fairy tales that means "Beauty and the Beast" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" retellings are going to be judged harder by me. And I wanted to throw the last retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" I read at a wall. I had no such problems with this one though, it is now my favorite of George's retellings.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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
I have stated in the past that I am a fan of retellings that offer a twist on the original tale. This is really true only if the tale truly requires it. Some fairy tales can't work as a full length novel because they are not a layered enough story otherwise (Cinderella). "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is layered and rich enough with so much plot that you don't have to add lots of bells and whistles to turn it into a really good novel. Thankfully George didn't try. What the original tale needed to make it richer was more characterization and that is what George gave it.
The youngest daughter of a poor woodcutter, the heroine is only ever called pika or Lass. Her mother refused to name her at birth as she was yet another worthless daughter. Her siblings have taken good care of Lass though. Her sisters taught her necessary skills and her brother, Hans Peter, showed her love. Her father also showed great care and regard for his youngest when he was around. Given the gift of speech with animals, Lass is sweet and content in her small life. Her mother's rejection and constant negativity have caused her to develop a wide stubborn streak and an iron will. And a need to prove that she is worth something after all. This makes all of her actions throughout the story believable and the choices she makes fit her character and history. The bear is less developed, but that is because he is cursed with the inability to speak about his past. The two do share long conversations about literature, life, and family. George also gave the servants in the palace delightfully endearing personalities and I loved the addition of Rollo, Lass's faithful wolf companion.
Other strong points of this retelling are the beautiful imagery in the descriptions of all the settings and the added texture of the Norse names and mythos. George gave this story a very real sense of place and it was easy to picture all the locales the story takes the characters to.
I highly recommend this to any one who loves a good fairy tale retelling to lose themsleves in.