Ice is a retelling of East of the Sun West of the Moon, a Norwegian Fairy Tale. I love fairytale retellings, and this one had potential. However the misogyny throughout the story just killed it for me. I think there is the hint of a decent story here, which is doubly frustrating. In the interest of clarity, I did not technically read the latter half of the book. I skipped ahead to the end after I raged out at the book. I liked parts of the ending and thought there was definite potential in the story, but I cannot deal with the ‘romance’ presented in the book.
This review is going to be extremely spoilery for the first half of the book.
The basic premise is that Cassie, who was raised on a polar bear research facility in the northern part of Alaska, is the granddaughter of the North Wind. Her mother, as in the Fairy Tale, was supposed to marry the Polar Bear King. However, she fell in love with a human and after promising the Bear her firstborn daughter as a wife the Bear lets her go. Well, the North Wind finds out and somehow she ends up captured by trolls. This is the story that Cassie grew up on, she thinks it means her mother is dead. Except it’s actually real, and when Bear (the Polar Bear King) shows up she bargains with him and agrees to marry him if he frees her mother. She marries him, falls in love and at some point sees his human face which condemns him to the trolls; the bargain to free her mother involved Cassie never seeing his human face. And Cassie goes on a quest to free him. That’s straight from the fairy tale.
The one real unique thing about this particular retelling is Bear is a munaqsri, a kind of mystical soul catcher, for the polar bears. He takes the souls of dying polar bears and releases them into the newborn bodies of baby polar bears. A sort of reincarnation. Souls who are not claimed by the various munaqsri are lost, and if a munaqsri does not have souls for the newborn, then the newborn are stillborn and enough still born means the species will die out. It’s interesting at any rate, and the message is definitely pro-saving polar bears (and other endangered species). Though the message is a wee bit simplistic and ignores the actual reasons those species are endangered. But this part of the story I liked. My issue is with the interplay between Cassie and Bear; it’s never set up as a believable romance. In fact, it’s almost textbook Darth Vader Boyfriend/ manipulative abuser bullshit.
I generally liked Cassie as a heroine. She’s smart and she has a spine. She starts the book with the goal of following her father in his career, and she loves helping out with the station research. Now I found it a bit unbelievable that she was involved with the research to the extent the book said she was (we’re introduced to this 18 year old girl out tagging a polar bear by herself), but I’m willing to give YA heroines a bit of leeway with their specialness. And really, uber-nerdy scientist is kind of a cool superpower. She even figures out a way to help Bear with his duties, a way to be his partner instead of just someone to bear his children and sit around at home. And boy, do I wish that this had been the major point of the romance instead of what was actually in the book, because while Cassie figures out how to be Bear’s partner, Bear is an abusive, manipulative asshole.
To start with, the reason Bear wants a wife is because he wants children. Look, that’s fine except that Cassie flat out says she doesn’t want them. She states that children are not on the table. Bear’s reason for wanting children makes sense, but you’d think he’d want a wife who ALSO wanted children. However Bear just ignores Cassie’s statement that she doesn’t want children and says something like, you’ll change your mind. Minus point the first.
But ok, they’re married already (because magic words or something). Now remember, Cassie only agreed to marry him because he promised he would free her mother if she did so. So at this point Cassie is thinking that this is not real, this is something she can say and take back. It’s not something she would have chosen if she’d had the choice. It’s a forced marriage is what I’m saying. That first night Bear shows up in Cassie’s bed in his human form, like hello we’re married now and married people sleep together. He doesn’t touch her, which is a relief and does leave when she threatens him. But he’s completely puzzled at why a girl, who only agreed to marry him in order to free her mother, is freaked out when he just shows up in her bed. Minus point the second.
Well the next morning when Cassie, rightfully, confronts him and tells him she wants to go home his response is terrible.
“I did not think you were the kind to give up without trying,” the Bear King said. (Interjection: SHE DOESN’T EVEN WANT THIS. SHE’S NOT GIVING UP ON ANYTHING)
“I don’t give up,” Cassie said automatically. She thought about it for an instant and then repeated, “I don’t give up.” He’d seen her stubbornness firsthand. She had tracked him until she was nearly out of fuel, despite knowing she was disobeying station rules. That chase felt like it had happened a lifetime ago.
“It is not an easy thing to have your world turned upside down,” he said. “I do not blame you for not being strong enough to accept what you have seen here, or not being brave enough to want to see more.”
I’m sorry, it’s her fault that she’s freaking out because she’s ‘not strong enough’ to deal with her world being turned upside down and inside out? Never mind that a girl with a scientific mind accepts ‘because magic’ really easily and seems perfectly ok with a talking bear who also changes into a human. But when she doesn’t immediately go along with what Bear wants, she’s suddenly ‘not strong enough’.
Minus point the third.
The book skips a couple of months where the two of them get to know each other. There’s no actually showing of the two of them becoming friends, we’re just told that they do. We’re told that they’re Cassie is totally ok with staying in the Ice Castle with Bear, because she likes him. We don’t even get a montage a la Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, just ‘and the months passed’ and bam friends.
And then winter rolls around, which is apparently Polar Bear birthing season (I did not know this. That’s cool), and Bear must attend to his duties and wander the ice to make sure he doesn’t miss a birth and end up with a still born baby bear. So Cassie is left alone in the castle with nothing to do, and she’s bored out of her mind. She asks if she can help him, he says no. She asks if she can do research, he says no. So she asks to go home, because really what does he expect her to do? He does allow her to leave, but it’s hardly willing:
“Do you plan to return?” Bear asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. She couldn’t look at him.
“How can you not know?”
“I just don’t.” All she knew was the idea of staying made her miserable and the idea of leaving made her just as miserable.
“So I must wait like a good little puppy dog while you decide our future?”
YES. YES YOU MUST WAIT, because she gets a say in that future. So far the only say she’s had is ensuring her mother’s rescue. She flat out stated she didn’t know what she wanted to do, but I guess that’s not good enough.
We’re at minus point four for those counting.
Cassie goes home. Home is smaller and danker then she remembered, but it’s there. She finally meets her mother, and it’s appropriately awkward. I like the fact that the reunion doesn’t ignore the fact that the two are essentially strangers to each other. A week passes and Cassie starts to miss Bear. She comes up with an idea on how she can help Bear so she doesn’t feel completely useless in the Ice Castle. Essentially she wants to use science to help him get to the pregnant bears efficiently. She gathers up the data she needs and summons Bear so she can return to him. There’s some argument from her parents, but it’s minimal and so she goes back.
And here’s where we reach the point where I rage quit. Cassie decides to finally have sex with Bear and then there’s a time jump to three months later where Cassie is throwing up because of morning sickness. She’s confused as to what is happening, because she was on the pill, and so pregnancy isn’t really something she’s expecting. But apparently Bear just corrected the hormonal imbalance so she could get pregnant. WITHOUT TELLING HER. And since she does specify a pill it means Bear had to correct the hormonal imbalance on a daily basis. Without telling her about it. And hey, remember how SHE DIDN’T EVEN WANT CHILDREN IN THE FIRST PLACE? Yea….
I was done. I read the ending thinking that maybe there was a point, maybe we finally got a YA story where the abusive boyfriend is dumped when the heroine realizes how terrible he is for her. But no, she’s perfectly happy with her daughter and her husband. So I marked it as complete. I wasn’t going to go through any more of that crap that masquerades as romance. I imagine the latter half of the book is probably very close to the actual fairy tale, as the final couple of pages mention characters seen in the fairy tale.
Do not recommend.