Next up: “East” by Edith Pattou
A retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun West of the Moon”, straddling the line between children’s and YA. There is apparently a sequel in the works.
Obviously, as a retelling, this story broadly follows the plot of “East of the Sun West of the Moon”. It does some new things, however, particularly adding some culture to the main character’s origin. A made-up superstition regarding the ‘birth direction’ of babies supposedly foretells the kind of personality and life the child will have. This is a major plot point of the novel. Rose’s mother refuses to have a North child, having received a prophecy that any North baby she has will die crushed by snow. And so Rose grows up unaware of the lie of her life–that she was not born an East baby, as her mother insists. As Rose’s heart continues to urge her into exploration and adventure, the lie begins to fester in her family.
Following the fairy-tale’s plot, the family falls upon hard times until one day a massive polar bear appears at their door. He offers a deal, allow him to take Rose away, and their luck will change. Predictably, Rose’s parents and siblings do not want to let her go, but she makes her own decision to help her family. The bear carries her north, to a mountain castle, where, uncertain of the purpose of her presence, Rose slowly learns of the mystery that haunts its halls, and her bear companion.
As I’ve said in other reviews, I really like retellings, and I really like this fairy-tale. This is a pretty good retelling of it, adding more depth to the setting of the story. Fairy-tales do tend to suffer from a lack of depth, to be honest. They’re usually very short and concise, coming from an oral tradition of children’s tales. While they can poke at the imagination, as stories themselves they often feel pretty hollow to me. Often characters aren’t even given names, and their motivations are absent; they’re cut-out figures, rather than people. It’s why I like retellings so much; they take those cores of good stories and flesh them out.
Being a children’s (or very young YA) book, “East” doesn’t go too deep, but it does add an attractive scaffold for the basic story of “East of the Sun West of the Moon.” I did like Rose’s character, finding her to be relatable and balanced. I enjoyed what was added to the character of the trolls, and the bear seemed to me more of a sorrowful tragic figure than in other versions of the story. All in all, it’s an enjoyable retelling, even if it doesn’t get really fancy with its expansion.