"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
January 15, 2013
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow
by Erin Cowles

I love the winter. I realize I’m a freak. Since the DC metro area tends towards mild winters, and I can’t persuade my husband to move the family to Canada, I decided to enjoy the cold vicariously by picking up Jessica Day George’s Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, a beautiful retelling of the old Nordic myth “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”

The heroine of this story is the last in a string of nine children, and so unwanted that her mother doesn’t even bother to give her a name – everyone calls her “pika” (which means “girl”) or lass. Despite her mother’s continual rejection and her humble surroundings, the lass lives happily, loved deeply by her father and siblings.

When an enchanted reindeer gives the lass the ability to speak to animals, her happiness grows, as it provides her an area of accomplishment and a way to contribute to the struggling family’s well-being. However, she also attracts the attention of an enchanted polar bear who insists that she needs to come and live in his palace for a year and a day. The lass agrees, as he promises she will not be harmed and he will make her family wealthy in her absence. However, despite her royal treatment at the palace, it is full of mysteries she’s determined to decipher, and her curiosity causes damage that she will have to undertake an epic journey to atone for.

George has created a beautiful atmosphere in the book. It is simultaneously lyrical, dangerous, ancient, and mysterious. I loved spending time in this world, and even though I was familiar enough with the original myth to already know the basic plot arc, I still loved watching the way the mysteries unfolded.

I also loved the lass’s journey to self-discovery and power. I’ve been thinking a lot about Shannon Hale’s recent blog post about the problems of being constantly asked why she writes strong female characters. George is fantastic at writing strong female characters that aren’t out to prove a “girl power” message. The lass is, yes, a girl in a patriarchal world, but George isn’t out to prove that she’s just as good as a boy. The lass is a realistically drawn girl, with strengths and weaknesses, seeking to thrive in the path life has put in front of her. She simply finds happiness on her own terms without having to prove anything to anybody else.

I do have to say the love story is not its strongest element. In a book that includes troll magic, an enchanted polar bear that lives in a palace, and a girl that can speak to animals, it says something that the least realistic bit of the book is the romance. If you want to swoon and fall vicariously in love with the prince, this is not the book for you. However, it is the book for you if you love intriguing retellings of old myths and strong character development.

Read this book if...

  • You can't get enough of Shannon Hale's books. Both authors offer beautifully drawn magical settings, quirky humor, engaging heroines, and a knack for making an old myth speak to a new generation.
  • You love all things Nordic – after all, George says this book was made possible by the letter Ø.
  • For an escape. When I read this, I felt like I was in a very different world than the one I live in.

Target audience: Ages 12 and up, leaning towards girls.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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