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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "Ice" by Sarah Beth Durst.


Author: Sarah Beth Durst.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry.

Pages: 308.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): 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.

Cover impressions: I’ve changed a lot as a reviewer since I started blogging about YA almost a year ago. I’ve matured my writing style, I’ve learned more about the publishing business, I’ve started to ask more questions and I’ve even made a few friends. I don’t regret my snarky sparkly beginnings because I had a lot of fun and sometimes you have to make a few mistakes to learn from. Nowadays I think I’m a much stronger reviewer and pick my reading choices based upon a more varied selection of reasons beyond snark material. This is why I am glad I didn’t know about “Ice” until I saw it recently. Had I read this last year, I would have blown a gasket and written a review to rival the abusive angels. Now, all I can hope to do is articulately explain why this book made my skin crawl. For this reason, there will be major spoilers.

My interest in “Ice” was peaked when I saw that it was a retelling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, a lesser known fairytale, and was intrigued to see how a YA retelling of a potentially highly problematic tale would work in a contemporary context. Unfortunately, “Ice” seems to be stuck in the Stone Age on so many issues, something that’s made all the more bitter by the fact that the book gets off to such a strong start. Cassie, at first, is a strong minded, hard working and intelligent young woman with high ambitions and an inquisitive nature. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for her to slide into a state of uncharacteristic stupidity, occasionally relieved with moments of clarity. However, it wouldn’t be fair to blame Cassie’s decisions for all the book’s wrongdoings, especially since she’s so often left without any real options. She’s practically forced into marrying the Polar Bear King in exchange for her mother’s safe return. Later on, she’s treated even worse, even by the man/bear who supposedly loves her.

There are elements of “Beauty and the Beast” in this tale and it does feel as is “Ice” is trying to replicate the Disney film’s romantic feel (many of the things Cassie says about Bear feel inspired by Belle), but Durst completely skips over any romantic development. There’s a jump in time and all of a sudden, a few weeks later, they’re apparently in love. It further weakens a story that desperately needs a strong author’s hand to make it convincing. Bear may be many generations old with equally archaic ideals but this didn’t adequately justify his actions towards Cassie.

There are certain things a romantic hero should never do. Tampering with a woman’s birth control is one of them. Cassie, who has been on the pill, finds herself pregnant because Bear used his magical powers to fix the chemical imbalance in her that was preventing a pregnancy. He didn’t discuss this with her, there is no instance of a conversation taking place between the two that discusses such matters, and he doesn’t even tell her she’s pregnant until she’s 3 months gone. I do not care how gracious or kind Bear was to Cassie earlier on (her words, not mine), you DO NOT DO THAT! True relationships are built on trust and mutual understanding. He never even talks to her about this. What makes it even more blood curdling is that Cassie forgives him. She kicks up a completely justifiable fuss beforehand, but in the end, she’s completely willing to give up all her future ambitions of university, a career and a life with her family, including her mother who she hasn’t seen for most of her life, to be a teenage wife and mother with a talking polar bear.

Sadly, this isn’t the worst part. After Cassie has to go on a quest to retrieve Bear, who has to swear himself to the Troll Princess due to a rather convoluted loophole that I won’t explain here because it’s inconsequential, everyone she meets is obsessed with the safety of her unborn child. Not her, just her unborn child. Every other spirit, creature and guardian that she meets, of varying species and ages, cares not for her but for the fetus she just happens to be in charge of for the next few months. One character, who is thankfully painted as something of a villain, keeps her captive and indirectly harms her in an effort to stop her saving Bear because the life inside her is more important than her own. Cassie is also given the nickname “Little mother” by these creatures. Her entire worth is based on the fact that she has a functioning uterus and that’s a hell of a lot more important than her own mind and decisions. Cassie doesn’t like this attitude, it angers her, and rightly so. But why doesn’t she display this anger towards Bear, who admitted that he wanted a wife to bear his children, a task he decrees to be the most important purpose of the marriage? Cassie isn’t stupid, yet she is completely willing to let the designated love interest make these decisions for her, even if they involve lying, and in the end it’s okay? Bear says he loves Cassie but for me, all I could see was a liar who was willing to sabotage a young woman’s life in order to get what he wanted. Cassie was left to be nothing but a breeding specimen with one use.

To be truthful, this is a well written book that is generally well paced and has an interesting mythology throughout the story. The action scenes are well done and when Cassie was an active heroine, I really appreciated. But I would be lying if I gave this book anything more than 1 star. I can’t get behind a romance built upon a much older man using an 18 year old girl in that way. Tampering with birth control and essentially trapping the wife you forced into marriage doesn’t not make you the romantic ideal, it makes you sick. Just because the original source material is old, that doesn’t mean one is obligated to keep the retelling stuck in the 1950s. Cassie was much more than a “little mother”, so to see her happily accept the fate she was forced into as the ideal life made me so sad. She was worth more than that. We all are.


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Anonymous said...

I got slightly excited (well, I would have had I not been following your tweets) when I saw "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", but I can tell from your description that I wouldn't have been able to like it any better than "one star" either if I had read it.

I wouldn't even give it the "original source material is old" excuse. I recently tracked down and rewatched a film made in 1982 that was based on the same family of fairy tales and it had none of this "a woman is just a uterus" nonsense (it's called The Prince Beyond the Seven Seas and was still quite good on rewatch).

shethra77 said...

Wow! Disappointing book. Hope your next discovery has more going on than this one has.

Ariana said...

I also did not care for this book. East of the Sun and West of the Moon is one of my favourite fairy tales. I enjoyed Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow - another retelling by Jessica Day George - much more.

Andrea said...

I call the main characters of stories like this "Suitcase Women" - and all too often the suitcase is discarded once the baby is delivered.

Oh, and pet niggle of mine - "piqued", not "peaked".

Anonymous said...

I remember liking the movie that this polar bear fairy tale was based on when I watched it as a child (can't remember the name of the film). However, this plot/romance/theme is incredibly icky and ugh. Why even go there? It reminds me of Breaking Dawn.

Anonymous said...

As a woman who doesn't want children, this disgusts and horrifies me. Isn't she on birth control because she wants to NOT GIVE BIRTH RIGHT NOW? And so her feelings on the matter are clear: No, I don't want that. And yet the Polar Bear King apparently completely ignores her wishes on the matter.

This is just horrible. I can't imagine having that kind of choice taken away from me.

morri_delrae said...

I'll honestly admit: when I started reading your review, my first thought was: "Oooh, I really like this cover!". My second thought was: "A young would-be scientist living on a research station? A story set in the Arctic? With polar bears? This is shaping up to be my favourite YA ever." The synopsis reminded me of the Northern Lights (aka, The Golden Compass), and Lyra's friendship with the polar bears was very much a highlight of that book.

Then I read the rest, and my third thought was "For the love of all that's good and holy - get this thing away from me!".

So, all in all, thank you for writing this review - if not for your warning, I might have stumbled straight onto this landmine. Although the "if Cassie will agree to be his bride" bit did ring some alarm bells. Marriage should never become a subject of a bargain - especially when a loved one's life is concerned, unless the character proposing such a deal is supposed to be a villain or the situation is shown as all-around dramatic. Please, YA authors, get your collective head out of the Stone Age and quit painting men who force young girls into marriage and parenthood as sympathetic romantic leads, because you will not succeed. I don't care how many polar bears this book has - I'm not touching it with a twenty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

Phoebe Caulfield said...

Lol, I can see what you mean about the difference in your reviewing - just comparing the Hush, Hush review a year ago is a massive contrast. That means good things for your writing though, right?

On another note, this book sounds painful. Shame, I was actually thinking about checking it out - I like fairytale retellings, especially of the more obscure ones. Seriously, that whole pregnancy thing just sounds... ughhh.

Anonymous said...

You know, I remember reading a book like this years ago (can't even remember the name at this point); it would be a shame if it was this book I was thinking about. I'm guessing there just based off of the same legend. But still.

Either way, good review :D

Anonymous said...

You know, the way Cassie gets pregnant reminds me of Breaking Dawn, specifically the part where Edward promises Jacob that he'll let Jacob sleep with and impregnate Bella if Jacob convinces her to get an abortion, all of this after openly admitting that he just wants to drug Bella and give her an abortion while she's knocked out (of course, Bella's opinions on the matter don't factor in at all)

Basically, it boils down to "...why?" Okay, the plot of West of the Sun, East of the Moon has the wife being pregnant and giving birth on her journey. So the author really wants to mimic that exactly. Fine. How about that the wife in the fairy tale knew and consented to getting pregnant? Granted at the time period having children was pretty much an obligation if you were married, but even so! If the author HAD to have Cassie be pregnant, there are so many ways it could have happened without being so squicky. So far as I could tell, the only point the hiding of the pregnancy had was that it gave an excuse for Cassie to be distrustful towards Bear and look at him while he was in his human form. If that was the point then again, many ways she could ended up there that did not involve her Dearly Beloved tricking her and hiding very important things from her. -_-

Which, I suppose, implies that the author didn't see what she wrote. And if that's the case, that's rather frightening. O_o

Erm, hope that all made sense. ^^;;;

Anonymous said...

Am I a horrible person for actually liking this book? I see what you mean about the pregnancy part of the plot being awful (and it did squick me out) but I felt the rest of the book was still well-done. Then again, for me, you could write the most sexist book in the world and if it was well-written, plotted, etc, I wouldn't care. /shrug

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