Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury, 2008) is a fairy tale retelling of the Scandinavian story "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."
"Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow," begins George in true fairy tale style, "there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end." And her telling continues to stay close to the old story of a girl who is married to a white bear, and taken far away to his castle. At night, in human form, he shares her bed. The girl pays a visit home, and is persuaded by her family to light the room and look at her bedfellow--but drops of tallow fall on the young man she sees, waking him, and he is whisked by magic far away....and the girl must search for him beyone the ends of the earth, helped by the four winds.
To this plot George brings homely details of the girl's life before the bear, living in poverty as a woodcutter's youngest daughter, so unwanted by her mother that she was given no name. George also brings engrossing detail to the bear's ice palace, introducing a variety of magical supporting characters. If you're a fan of Robin McKinley's Beauty, this part of the story, where bear and girl become friends in an enchanted castle, will seem pleasantly familiar! I wish the story had stayed longer in the castle--I truly enjoyed this part of the book. I was not so taken by the climax of the story, when the girl confronts those who cast the spells. The bad guys lacked enchantment for me, and a couple of the characters' emotional responses didn't quite ring true.
Some fairy tale retellings seem almost to get at the first story--the tale before it was collected and embellished, the almost-real heart of the matter (Elizabeth Bunce's A Curse Dark as Gold, for instance, or Robin McKinley's Deerskin). Some, like this one, take the story as told and use it faithfully as a model, while adding insight and originality to it with the richness of background and personality they create. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is a good example of the latter, with the story retold with verve and the un-named heroine made a strong and likable character, with magic of her own. I'd heartily recommend this one to fans of Shannon Hale, as well as all those who love Beauty!
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, has been nominated for the Cybils in the YA Science Fiction and Fantasy category.