Shadow of the Bear is a ‘retelling’ of the Grim Fairy Tale Snow White and Rose Red, the one where they have a bear suitor. You have to specify because there are a couple of Snow White/Rose Red fairy tales and I remember being confused about that when I was younger. I put retelling in quotes because the only real changes to the fairy tale is that it’s set in the modern era and all characters are human, otherwise nothing really changes. It’s this lack of difference that annoyed me and lowered my rating for the book.
If you’ve read Snow White and Rose Red, then you know this story. Snow White and Rose Red are two impoverished, but beautiful sisters. Their mother introduces them to a bear, who visits often and becomes their friend. They learn that he’s a prince held captive by some evil dwarves who want his money. They free him and he marries one or the other, which one depends on the version. It’s a pretty decent fairy tale, and I really do enjoy it. I don’t think it’s my favorite of all time, but maybe top ten.
As I love fairy tales, I love their retellings. However, I find that a good retelling comes at the story from a new point of view, or uses the base of the story to explore an event in the modern world. The best retellings don’t just retell the story, they recreate it. This book doesn’t do that. It does nothing with the story to make it new, as it really was just the simple story without the enchantment or dwarves. And the lack of enchantment and dwarves kind of takes all the magic out of the fairy tale. The thing is, I could see this tale working well if the author had decided to do more with the prison system (the enchantment here) and show how unjust it can be. But again, it was just a big nothing.
I was also annoyed at the rather preachy tone of the book. I don’t really mind religion in my novels, but I do think it needs to have a purpose. Here the religious aspects felt added on to make the book Christian. Rather then telling a Christian tale it was a story with Christianity inserted to make it sellable to certain populations.
This review has gotten pretty damning and I need to come up with something I enjoyed about the novel. It was light and simple. Very easy to read and while I didn’t really enjoy it, it also didn’t offend me. I did like the characters. They were very well developed, and felt true to their fairy tale origins without stepping over the line into caricature.
However, finally, and perhaps most ironically, there were elements of wish fulfillment that felt unrealistic and naïve. There is a scene where Rose confronts a boy who had assaulted her the night previous. And while her rage was understandable and admirable, I didn’t quite believe his submissive, conciliatory response. His response was the one you imagine happening after telling of catcallers rather then the actual response you’d get should you do so. I get why it was put in there, telling girls not to take men’s crap is never a bad thing, but it just didn’t read as realistic and I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of fantastical wish fulfillment.
All in all, it’s a fairly mediocre read. It’s not horrible and I think if I were a more inexperienced reader I would have enjoyed it quite a bit. I think I would have liked it quite a bit if I’d read it as an actual teenager, but it wouldn’t have been a novel to stick with me throughout the years.