Once Upon a Winter’s Night: We don’t need this anymore

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Dennis L. McKiernan City of Jade MithgarOnce Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis L. McKiernan

have a thing for retold fairy tales. There was a time when I had even more of a thing for retold fairy tales. I was obsessed. I combed bookstores for anything claiming to be a retelling of this or that. I was especially interested in treatments of the lesser-known tales, and one of those lesser-known tales was “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon.”

When I learned of Once Upon a Winter’s Night, I was ecstatic. I hadn’t stumbled across any other retellings of “East o’ the Sun” and I bought this novel eagerly. I remember enjoying it at the time. It wasn’t incredibly deep, adding length but no new layers to the tale, but I thought it was sweet and fun for the most part. Yet it left a vague, unpleasant taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite define at the time.

I can define it now. Sexism. Here are a few highlights:

  • A skeevy conversation in which an older female character regales Camille with the reasons why women should be virgins when they get married but men should not.
  • Camille (a dippy, drippy heroine if I ever saw one) gets the final clue to her quest by crying. She doesn’t say “I thought Urd was right” matter-of-factly, or shout it in anger or frustration, or anything like that. She breaks down into tears and a man solves the problem for her.
  • At the end, the good guys are getting ready to confront the evil witch. (That’s another flaw. The novel would be far more satisfying if we actually got to see that confrontation, but instead it’s deferred to some later book.) But Camille hasn’t actually picked up any new skills in the course of her quest. She’s doomed, unless the witch is allergic to tears.

Bleh. Once Upon a Winter’s Night may have had its place when no one else was retelling this particular tale, but we don’t need it anymore. There are now several newer interpretations of “East o’ the Sun” featuring stronger heroines:

East by Edith Pattou
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, 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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