Andersen's The Little Mermaid is probably my favorite fairy tale, and one I feel is often misunderstood (though that's a rant for another day). So a n...moreAndersen's The Little Mermaid is probably my favorite fairy tale, and one I feel is often misunderstood (though that's a rant for another day). So a novel adaptation of the story, with the "other princess" as co-protagonist, sounded like something specifically made to appeal to me. But while there were some good bits, and Lenia and Magrethe were interesting enough, on the whole the book was disappointing.
One major problem was the prince. I felt absolutely no connection to him whatsoever, and had no notion of why these two women would fall so deeply in love with him. When the motivation of both your protagonists involves their love for a certain guy, the guy needs to be worth it! I see that a lot of reviewers have described the prince as a jerk; but if he was an intriguing or charismatic jerk, we could at least get a sense of why someone would fall for him. But he was just a flat, undrawn character. Of course, one-note princes and love at first sight are mainstays in fairytales. But in the more "realistic" style of the novel, it felt like a serious flaw.
There were also a lot of dragging bits which seemed to serve no purpose other than to pad out the story into a novel. There's a whole chapter of Magrethe and her friend riding to the southern kingdom, accompanied by two nameless faceless guards, staying with a succession of nameless faceless nobles. I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen -- betrayal, sudden detour, a character-revealing conversation -- anything to justify why this entire chapter was not replaced with a single line, "After a long and exhausting journey, Magrethe finally arrived in the southern kingdom."(less)
This book is full of magic. Not the kind of magic that will defeat a dark lord or undo a curse or turn winter into spring. More like the kind of magic...moreThis book is full of magic. Not the kind of magic that will defeat a dark lord or undo a curse or turn winter into spring. More like the kind of magic that gives a name to something that otherwise seems too formless and overwhelming to describe. There are some children’s books where you read them as an adult and think, “No, this is too painful, why would you give this to a child?” But I guess for some children, this would be exactly the type of book they need. I would not call it a “dark” or “gritty” story, but it felt very real, even the fantasy parts -- uncomfortably so at times.
Because the protagonist, Hazel, is immersed in fantasy literature and entertainment, the book is crammed thick with literary and pop culture references, in a way that’s not self-conscious or elbow-nudging, but effortless and organic. In describing Hazel’s snowed-in neighborhood, a more cautious author might have said that it “looked like the ice planet of Hoth,” knowing that someone who had never seen Star Wars would still get the idea of an ice planet. Instead, Ursu says it looks “as if it was only traversible by tauntaun,” trusting that the reader will know what a tauntaun is and what it has to do with a snowy landscape. In the same way Ursu assumes that the reader will not need any explanation for why Hazel and Jack refer to an abandoned shed as the “shrieking shack,” or what Hazel means when she describes Jack’s depressed mother as looking “as if her daemon was severed.” It becomes almost a running gag that Hazel considers the idea of a “Snow Queen” to be pretty much a Narnia rip-off, until she is told, “No, Narnia is like her.”
I’ve seen various versions of this story where the Snow Queen is evil, others where she’s more neutral or even sympathetic. This is the first version where I’ve found the Snow Queen actually frightening. (less)