Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst

Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009, YA--14ish on up, 308pp), is a re-imagining of the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."

Cassie has lived all her eighteen years in an arctic research station, where her father studies polar bears. When she was little, her grandmother told her the story of how her mother disappeared one day, a story that began:

"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....and so, the Polar Bear King kidnapped a human child and brought her to the North Wind, and she was raised with the North Wind as her father and the West, South, and East Winds as her uncles." (page 1)

Cassie knows this is just a story. But one day, when she sets off by herself to tag a polar bear, she finds that fairy tales can be true...and that she can save her mother from the castle of the trolls where she is imprisoned, if she herself will consent to be the polar bear's wife. Agreeing to the bargain, she sets off to live in a beautiful palace of ice, with the bear at her side. Each night, in the dark, he takes on human form, and gradually love grows between them. Then one night, Cassie breaks the rules. Now she must set off to the land east of the sun and west of the moon, to save her bear husband from the trolls, whoever they might be.

It is not just her own happiness, or the fate of her unborn child, that is at stake. In an original twist to the tale, Durst's bear is a guardian spirit, a mumaqsri, charged with ensuring the rebirth of the polar bears over whom he watches. But things have been going wrong, and there are too few souls to give life to the babies being born. By saving her husband, Cassie can help set this balance right again--if she can outwit those who would trap her forever.

In her journey to rescue the polar bear, Cassie shows herself to be a formidable heroine. The story becomes a nail-biting test of her survival skills as she crosses the ice, and tests her wits and resolve, and her love for her husband, against a strange force of nature that wants to prevent her from reaching the castle of the trolls. Durst skillfully handles Cassie's emotions, making her a very real and (almost always) believable character, despite the improbability of her circumstances. The one truly jarring element is the return of Cassie's mother--this was ostensibly the main reason why Cassie married Bear, and it is rather summarily dealt with.

The incorporation of spirit guardians, with its concomitant environmentalism, adds depth to this fairy tale retelling. And it's a very nice touch that Cassie is able to use her training as a scientist to help her bear with his mission, traveling with him as he delivers souls to the baby bears to gather data that improve the odds that the species will continue (in the original story, she saves her husband by doing laundry. This is much more cool).

By setting her fairy tale in the modern world, one where girls can be scientists, and polar bears are endangered, and by adding a spiritual dimension to the plot, Durst gave herself a place to reimagine an old story in an exciting and entertaining way, and does so rather splendidly.

Here are a few other reviews and recommendations, at Bib-Laura-Graphy, Grow Wings, The Book Butterfly, Book Geeks, and Kids Lit, and here's an interview with Durst at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Review copy supplied by the publisher at the request of the author.


  1. You handled that complex story much better than I did, Charlotte. Great review!

  2. You must be reading my mind or something because I just went to pick this book up for review :P

    Great review!

  3. Thanks, you nice people, for taking the time to comment!

  4. I really want to read this! I wonder if my library will buy it... Great review!

  5. Wow! I've read another of another retelling of this fairytale. It's called "East", and it's by Edith Patou.

  6. Oh "East" or "North Child" in some places, is one of my all time favourite books! I look forward to trying this interpretation of the original fairytale.


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