As the fairy tale glides into the modern era, one finds it spun to show different facets of familiar stories. This is true in Sarah Beth Durst’s Ice, which limns the ideas of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” across the narrative of Cassie, the daughter of a lead researcher in the arctic, as she tries to restore various families, including, perhaps, the animal families within the ecosystems of the planet. Cassie’s dedication to polar bears is a brilliant fire beneath the story and Ms. Durst’s depiction of the rigors and hazards of research was a fascinating component of the story.
While some plot twists seem telegraphed from the beginning, others will take your breath away with their unexpected threats and beauty. Ms. Durst’s underwater scenes and her ice scenes are both beautiful and interesting (especially to this reader, who spends her entire time in a climate where ice comes from the freezer, not the sky). The idea of an ecological balance that extends further than the physical and into the metaphysical creates a framework delicate enough to support Cassie’s changing priorities without making them feel heavy-handed. One aspect that I didn’t expect was the way that Ms. Durst didn’t have Cassie earn her way through her eventual quest to save her husband through the typical favor system of older fairy tales. Instead, Cassie’s own will to keep going and her knowledge of the world through which she moved provided her with the strength and ingenuity to move forward.
The ideas of love and sacrifice between generations were moving, which helped to balance out the minefield of the idea of a forced marriage. This part of the story did keep me a little on edge, with the idea that the princely husband would have to act always out of a devotional love that kept the character at a slight remove and made Cassie’s eventual warming up to him something that happened more behind the scenes that otherwise. In keeping with the author’s nimbleness in this situation, the transposition of villains and allies kept me on my toes. I’m glad to have had the chance to read this version of one of my favorite fairy tales.
The book for this month's review was purchased by SFT.