Her mother was facing north when Rose was born…which means that that the girl will be a traveler, a wanderer. Add to that the prophecy that this Norwegian north child will perish in an avalanche of ice and snow, and you can see why Rose’s mother wants her to never go out of doors. But superstitions can not always be heeded when reality is bleak. As the family farm fails and starvation looms on the horizon, a white bear appears, asking for Rose be given to him in return for a change in fortune.
As her parents disagree over what to do, Rose agrees to the white bear’s request and finds herself riding on his back to a magical castle carved within a mountain. As the mystery of her new surroundings deepens, Rose develops a companionship with the lonely bear, and eventually discovers, through her own folly, just how strong is the enchantment which binds him as he is whisked away from her side. What follows is an epic journey that takes Rose from the forests of France to the fjords of Greenland, as she discovers how warm a fire love can kindle in the coldest reaches of the world.
I have always adored the fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” In this novel, the tale is placed in a meticulously crafted sixteenth century world and told with prose as crisp and clear as the Arctic air. Some of the magical and mythological elements of the original are removed, but the central enchantment surrounding the polar bear remains unchanged. The author uses five narrators to make the story come alive, a brave and successful stylistic choice that added to the glory of the story. I particularly enjoyed having the Troll Queen and Rose’s brother Neddy’s perspectives on the unfolding of events. Although this book is touted as a middle grade novel (no doubt due to the absence of offensive material in it), I highly recommend it for all interested in fairy tales and fantasy.
“Rubbing linseed oil into my blistered hands, I thought wistfully of how magic lets you skip over the steps of things. That is what makes it so appealing. But, I thought, the steps of things are where life is truly found, in doing the day-to-day tasks…. And I knew, without ever having been told, that the white bear would have gladly traded the comfortable magic life in the castle in exchange for a whole horde of blisters on his feet.”