The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher (Red Wombat Tea Co., Feb. 2016), is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen," and if you have read any other of T. Kingfisher's books (she's also Ursula Vernon) you can imagine that it is a very nice read indeed, and perfect for reading on a cold day under lots of blankets in front of the fire.  I'm going to spoil a major plot point in the next few paragraphs, but it's one that needs spoiling to help some readers who will love the book to find it!

So "The Snow Queen" is the one about the boy who gets the shard of ice stuck in his eye, and is swept off by the beautiful Snow Queen, and the girl who sets off to find her playmate/love and bring him home.  Kingfisher sticks closely to the events in the original story, but twists them to make something new.

Kay and Gerta grow up together in a northern land where Christianity and old stories and magical beings coexist,  She loves him, but he's not a great friend to her, though she tells herself he is.  The reader quickly comes not to care all that much for Kay; Gerta clearly deserves someone who values her more.  But when Kay is kidnapped (and the arrival o.f the Snow Queen is gloriously descriptive, with her sleigh drawn by flying white otters (!)) Gerta sets off to find him because she is a good, loyal person.  Along the way she befriends a raven with whom she can communicate, which ends up sprinkling humor into the story, and she finds herself in the home of a group of brigands.  The bandit girl, Janna, keeps her from being harmed, and kisses her.

And then Janna sets of with Gerta, who has been given a magical reindeer skin that transforms her into a reindeer herself, to the stronghold of the Snow Queen, to rescue Kay.  And they rescue Kay in an exciting interesting rescue that was good fun to read, making good use of all the disparate things that Greta learned in her journey.

But back to Janna and Gerta.  I was taken aback by that sudden first kiss.  I had nothing against the idea of a Janna/Greta relationship, but the fact remained that Janna had power of life and death over Greta at that point, and she didn't ask before kissing her, rather passionately.  If it had been a young man doing that it would have bothered me a lot, and it bothered me as it was.   But fortunately, after the initial shock ,Greta lets herself acknowledge that she returns Janna's attraction, and things develop between them at a measured pace during the course of their adventure together (making it less an insta love thing than I'd worried it was at first).  It is a rather nice romance, when all is said and done, and Kay basically gets dropped of at home like a parcel of laundry at the end and Janna and Greta set off together for new adventures.

Throughout the story, the power of old women. and the stories and knowledge they keep, is essential to the success of Gerta's mission.  Her strength as a heroine is her persistence, which is close to being an innate goodness--she recognizes what must be done and does it, and she needs the spark of external wisdom and magic the four old women she meets can contribute (even though one of them is horrible, and one imprisons her) to make things work.  And likewise, she needs the spark of Janna's kiss to start really shaking her free of Kay.  I'm still a little worried that's she's not entirely grown into her own self by the end of the book, but she's still young....

Short answer--lots of twists and additions to the original story, and beautiful descriptions, make this a very fun fairy tale retelling.  I would have liked it to push a bit harder at characterization and thematic depth, but it is entertaining as all get out as is!


  1. I love the Snow Queen story and I love fairy tale retellings. I will have to get hold of this one. Thanks for the review.

  2. Excellent, I will check it out! I still haven't read anything by Ursula Vernon, I am sorry to report, but I want to change that in 2018. I hear only good things about her.

    1. You could start with Harriet the Hamster Princess; possibly her most original and wonderful work...


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