I started Ice by Sarah Beth Durst with really high hopes. On the surface, it looked perfect for me: a re-telling of my favourite fairytale (East of the Sun and West of the Moon), set in the high Arctic, with a strong female protagonist who has grown up at an Arctic research station. Biological science and fairytales = two of my favourite things, so how can I possibly go wrong?
Cassandra Dasent is the daughter of an Arctic researcher, who has grown up at his research station. Her passions are polar bears and the Arctic ice, and she intends to become a researcher herself. Her mother is dead. When Cassie was little, her grandmother often told her a story: her mother was the daughter of the North Wind, who was promised to be the bride of the Polar Bear King. But Cassie's mother fell in love with a human man instead, and made a bargain with the King -- if he would protect her and her family from the North Wind's anger, her daughter would be his bride in her stead. But the North Wind did find Cassie's mother and in his fury carried her to a castle east of the sun and west of the moon, where she was imprisoned by trolls. This is just a story, Cassie knows. Yet on her eighteenth birthday, she tracks the most marvellous and unusual bear she has ever seen. When he finds out, her father goes to extremes and banishes her from the station, to go live in Fairbanks with her grandmother. Cassie's not about to go -- and she is about to test the limits of her understood reality.
The setting and description was really well done; there is a love of wild places that really shines through in this book, and a deep respect for the creatures that inhabit these places where humans can barely go. I liked that the wilderness felt so vast, so unknowable, so full of beauty but implacable, too. Cassie's love for the Arctic, for the ice, and for the bears really came through, but it's not just from her that this respect and awe of the northern wilderness is apparent -- it's embedded in the fabric of the writing.
In a fairytale, the characters are essentially placeholders. The Grimms never gave much characterization to the princesses or kings or third sons that filled their stories; they were all essentially the same, and their characteristics are determined by their station in life: step-sisters are greedy and jealous; tailors are clever and often amoral; princesses are good but often demanding and remote unless they're the focus of the story, in which case they usually have to lose everything before they can have a happily ever after. It is hard to feel particularly connected or sympathetic to these character outlines.
What I'm getting at is I had a hard time connecting to either Cassie or Bear. Cassie was funny and feisty; she had a great sarcastic sense of humour, which I thoroughly enjoyed; and she was stubborn and impulsive. Bear was kind, and gentle, and noble, and several centuries worth of patient -- but Bear especially I had a hard time getting a handle on because he seemed so remote. Both of them I felt rather removed from through most of the book, and I'm not sure why. I think it may be because though I liked Cassie a lot, there were great swathes of the book where I was really irritated with her. Her impulsiveness was just disastrous a lot of the time, and sometimes I felt it was at odds with her intelligence. The thing was, intellectually I can understand where her decisions and actions and feelings were coming from, but I didn't really *understand* them in a way that would connect me to her because I got so frustrated with her. To be honest, this may be because I am well beyond eighteen now, and those who are closer to that stage of life might have a much easier time connecting with Cassie than I did.
The other thing that really bothered me about this book is a huge, huge, book-ruining spoiler, so I'm not quite sure how to deal with this. Let me just say, I have encountered this problem before in romance novels and in a couple of cases it actually made me quit the book immediately, so the fact that I actually picked up Ice again after my WTFBBQ??! moment is a sign: Ice was good enough that I wanted to give it another chance. Also, this Incident wasn't as bad as some Incidents of the same type I've read. It's mostly about communication, and the way people talk to each other in relationships, and the fact that there are some things, big life-altering things, that need to be arrived at together, not by one partner making a decision on an assumption, no matter how well-meaning they are. And the way both Cassie and Bear handled it, before and after, was just so infuriating to me. You are in a loving relationship, you TALK to eachother, okay? Even when it's scary and hard.
If you know of which Incident I speak and wish to discuss further, or you don't know and absolutely must find out before reading the book, my email is my username at gmail.
Anyway. That review is long enough! I did enjoy Ice, and I would recommend it with caveats. It's a fun read, and in parts a really lovely read. I do think it's a read that lends itself to discussion, too, because of the Incident, which maybe is not such a bad thing.
And now, Mandy answers my questions:
Do you like Cassie as a character? Do you like her with Bear?
[Note from K: I have to admit, I stole this question from Mandy because I wanted to hear her opinion on it too.]
I liked Bear better than Cassie, although I'll get into this later, Cassie surprised me at times. Bear, I agree, would have been a stronger character if we saw him as a human more often. Like if he were more like a were-bear (I just wanted to write that). Because no matter how much you love someone for their mind and heart, the fact that they are in an animal suit more often than their human suit would be a problem. This is more of the fairy tale aspect of the story talking of course; when I watch Disney's Beauty and the Beast I prefer him as the beast--at the end he is less cool as a human (and also blonde? why?). I wanted to know more about his human-ness.
Cassie surprised me when, at the beginning, Bear tells her that if he answers all her questions she must agree to stay with him. She begins to ask all the questions she can think of and I was like "Woman shut up! You are trapping yourself!". Then when Bear says "ha, now you must stay" Cassie says "Well, actually I never agreed to the proposal". I was proud of her at that moment. Her character is the fiery brave kind and sometimes I thought I wasn't getting enough of her inner life. Sometimes Cassie was too much the fairy tale hero.
Ultimately I would have loved more of their life together at the castle before they split up, before Bear has to leave her.
Cassie had a "family" back at the research station; what do you think of her relationship with them, while she's there and after she's left?
It's funny, I never felt a bond between Cassie and her dad. He wasn't fully formed in my mind (even less so, her mother). I didn't get the feeling that Cassie had a home at the station. Before she leaves with Bear I saw Cassie as more of a loner and her dad as one of those busy-with-work types. When she returns, thinking to recapture her "home" life, I didn't feel that Cassie was really missed. Her family members were kind of forgettable to me. Except for her grandmother. I could have used a few more scenes with her.
Overall, I had the strong sense that Cassie wasn't giving up too much to be with Bear. And that Bear was her true "home".
How did you feel about Father Forest, and what did you think of his role in the story?
The Father Forest events, apart from the end sequence, was the most fairy-tale-like aspect of Ice. His character is nurturing and wise, but also smothering. He represents that aspect of ourselves that wants to avoid plunging into icy oceans and confronting trolls. It wants us to put self-protection ahead of other, more dangerous considerations. So it was an interesting and necessary, very fairy-tale-like, addition to the story. He was the walking question "why put yourself in danger when you don't have to?" The hardest thing for a hero to defeat is self-doubt. Heros always have to re-connect with their concern for others--to remember exactly why they want to risk themselves to save others. In Cassie's case, she loves Bear and it dissolves any doubt. She is able to properly resist Father Forest in a gripping action scene.
Thank you so much Mandy! This is my first "buddy review" and it's been a great experience and a lot of fun. Having the chance to talk this book over with you has given me some new perspectives on it. For one thing, I hadn't really thought of Father Forest in a symbolic way, and now he makes a lot more sense to me, and Cassie's actions in that section, too; in fact, I'd sort of been rooting (ha ha!) for Father Forest because I honestly agreed with him the entire time, even if his methods were a bit... extreme. But I agree, the path she takes makes a lot of sense in her fairytale hero role. Conclusion: I would suck as a fairytale hero.
Head over to edge of seventeen to check out Mandy's review and the other half of our conversation! Tune in sometime in the hopefully near future for our foray into getting me to appreciate the wonderful/terrible world of YA dystopian fiction.