Fairy tale retellings have been pretty big in the past few years. One of the challenges is to take what’s usually a pretty short, and very familiar, plot outline and expand it into a full length operation. Jessica Day George gives herself one leg up, at least for me, because she is retelling a Norse tale. I had heard the phrase “east of the sun, west of the moon” before, but wasn’t familiar with the tale.
The lass is the youngest (and unnamed) daughter of a poor woodcutter. One day, the white reindeer, which is known to grant wishes to the person who catches him, is seen near their village. The lass and pretty much everyone else go out in search of him. It is the lass who finds him, caught in brambles, and kindly frees him. The boon she asks is that he heal her oldest brother Hans Peter, who returned from years at sea a changed man. The reindeer says that Hans Peter is troll-cursed and beyond his power. He does give the lass a name, something she’s never before had, and the ability to speak to animals. Later, an isbjorn is seen, and though he is hunted as well, he makes his way to the lass and asks her to come with him to spend a year and a day with him. Despite her brother’s urgings not to she goes with him, to a palace made of ice in the far north.
It takes the lass a long while to figure out what’s going on in the ice palace, where the curious non-human servants are under orders not to speak to her and rooms are filled with looms and other human tools. But when she does figure it out, she is not one to bemoan her fate or resign herself to it. She will fight, despite the odds and that no one she meets believes she even has a chance. The lass is a strong female character–something I always like to see.
Jessica Day George hasn’t really broken any molds with the stuff of hers that I’ve read, but they’re always enjoyable.