Ice: Cassie is not one of those passive YA heroines

fantasy book reviews Sarah Beth Durst Icefantasy book reviews Sarah Beth Durst IceIce by Sarah Beth Durst

Cassie doesn’t believe in fairy tales. Sure, Gram used to tell her that bedtime story about how Cassie’s mother was stolen away by the North Wind and imprisoned by trolls. But Cassie, who lives with her scientist father at a research station in the Arctic, has every intention of following in Dad’s logical, analytical footsteps. She has no time for fantasy. And besides, as she grew older, she realized that “stolen by the North Wind” was just a euphemism for “died.”

Or was it?

On her eighteenth birthday, Cassie tracks a polar bear into the icy wastes, intending to tag it for research. When it escapes by walking through a wall of ice, she realizes it’s no ordinary bear — and when she describes it to Dad, he panics. Turns out the story was true, and now Cassie is fated to become the polar bear’s bride.

She doesn’t go passively, instead striking a deal with the bear. She’ll go with him if he will rescue her mother from the trolls. He agrees. Soon, the girl who doesn’t believe in fairy tales is living one of her own, carried away by Bear to his enchanted castle. Cassie and Bear develop an unlikely friendship that later leads to romance, and I love what a great team they make. Bear is a munaqsri, whose task it is to collect the souls of dying polar bears and ensure that they are reincarnated into newborn bears. Cassie uses her scientific knowledge to improve the odds. The two are colleagues as much as they are romantic partners.

This being a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” eventually Cassie breaks a taboo and loses Bear to the trolls. She sets out on an impossible journey to rescue him.

Cassie is a fierce heroine who practically jumps off the page. She’s smart, brave, and resourceful. She isn’t always likable, but she’s always dynamic. She strikes bargains, takes death-defying risks, tells lies, tricks people, and never gives up. In YA fantasy, there have been a lot of passive heroines lately. This is NOT one of them.

Ice — (2009) Young adult. Publisher: When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe. Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride. That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous /

    I got this one for Christmas. I’m glad you liked it. This is my favorite fairy tale, so I’m glad it’s getting good reviews.

  2. I’ve always loved this tale too, and I’m glad it’s been retold several times recently. There are a couple of other takes on it that I hope to read soon!

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