Once Upon a Winter’s Night (McKiernan)

Next up: “Once Upon a Winter’s Night” by Dennis L. McKiernan

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A retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”  It has since been expanded into a series, but I’ve only read this first one, and it can stand alone.

Summary

Naturally, since it is a retelling, it follows the basic story of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”  A young girl’s family struggles in extreme poverty, until one day a great bear appears at their door offering a trade.  Give him their daughter, and he will ensure that good fortune and health come their way.  Some members of the family agree, some don’t wish to sell her to a bear.  But the daughter is good and dutiful and wants to help her family, so she agrees to the bear’s terms.

The bear takes the young woman– in this book, her name is Camille– away, to his palace in the Sumerwood, in the lands of faery.  While she lives in this palace, she meets the mysterious Prince Alain, to whom she is affianced, who only appears to her at night, and who always wears a mask to hide his face.  Camille is also perplexed by the wealth of secrets and mysteries contained within the palace.  What is the story behind the magical bear that brought her there?  What happened to the former king and queen?  Why does Alain wear a mask and where does he go in the daytime?  Why are the servants so afraid of the hedge-maze?  The mysteries begin to wear upon her, her curiosity growing.  And then, after visiting her family and her mother planting the seed in her mind, Camille breaks one of the ‘rules’ of Alain’s palace, and sneaks a look at him, maskless.

Suddenly, strong magic comes into play, sweeping away Alain and the life Camille had just been settling into.  Lost and afraid for the Prince she had come to love, Camille sets off on a journey to get back her love and break the spell that has been plaguing the Summerwood.

My thoughts

I like the source story.  In terms of plot, this story is fine.  It’s mostly broken down into two parts: the first is Camille falling in love with Alain in the palace, and the second is the quest she undertakes to get him back.  Both parts are fine, paced decently.  But the characters… the characters detract from the story.  They’re all such… vapid, shallowly characterized creatures.  Camille is… well, she’s kind of an idiot, to be frank.  Or at least incredibly unobservant.  Alain is such a ‘prince charming’.  Nobody really has flaws or faults and all the ‘good guys’ are fairy-tale shiny, goodie-two-shoes.  There’s no complexity, really, to anybody.  I get that it is derived from a fairy tale, but it’s a retelling, and some effort could have been made to deepen the story.  It’s a very light read, because of this.  It tells a story, but one that doesn’t really touch your emotions.

The story, as a fairy tale, wraps up super pretty.  The good guys get everything they’ve ever wanted, the bad guys all get a karmic kick in the face.  It’s a little too perfect, to be honest.  I don’t need every single person who ever spoke ill of pretty, perfect Camille to suffer.  I don’t need every good guy who was hurt to be compensated in some way.  I don’t need the absolute perfect ending.  And it’s a little frustrating to get fed it.  There’s no real struggle for it, or perhaps the failure of the story to illicit strong emotions makes it feel like there wasn’t, so such a picture-perfect ending feels undeserved.

This is a rentable book, I suppose, but not one that’s earned a permanent place on the shelves.

Rating

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4/7 stars

Warnings

Some vague sexual scenes.

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