by Sarah Beth Durst
From the author of Into the Wild and its sequel Out of the Wild comes this novel-sized version of the famous fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," also known as Beauty and the Beast, Hans My Hedgehog, and the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. It's a very powerful story, close to the heart of world folklore, so one needn't be surprised to find it expanded to fit a novel. Indeed, Durst isn't the first author to do this. Edith Pattou gave us East. Robin McKinley wrote two versions: Rose Daughter and Beauty. Even C. S. Lewis wrote one: Till We Have Faces.
What does this version have that the others don't have? It has the present-day, strong female voice of young Cassie Dasent. It has a richly detailed portrait of Arctic life in its variety and fragility. It also has a strong current of Inuit spirituality (occult-conscious parents and readers be advised). The bear who claims Cassie as his bride, for example, is a Munaqsri: a magical being who collects the souls of the dying and recycles them into the newborn.
Cassie's husband is a polar bear by profession, but a human by birth. He assumes his human form only at night when he lies beside her in bed. In the darkness of their enchanted ice castle, one mile north of the North Pole, Cassie longs to see his face and know whether she has truly married a monster - especially as she wrestles with confusion over her growing love for Bear, her feelings toward her family, and the meaning of the child growing inside her body. One night she takes matters into her own hands - which is to say, she takes a flashlight. But because of a cruel promise, Bear is taken from her at the very moment she realizes that she truly loves him. And so Cassie sets off on a journey through brutally harsh conditions, passing through pain and despair and cruel hope, in quest of the troll's castle beyond the end of the world where her husband is to be married to the troll princess.
It's a novel about what happens when a real-world girl of today gets caught up in a fairy tale. It's a novel of survival in a broad range of Arctic ecosystems. It's a novel that begins with acknowledgments thanking "the polar bears, arctic foxes, and caribou for their patience and kind words of encouragement." It's a novel whose prologue, all of two pages long, seized me in its firm grip and pulled me all the way through to its swift, fulfilling end. It's a fine work, even for a story whereof many great authors have written competing versions. I thank Sarah and her publicist at Simon & Schuster for sending me not one but two promotional copies of this book. It has my wholehearted recommendation!
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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