CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006
East is a fantasy, a lengthy retelling of an old Norwegian folk tale, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." If you are unfamiliar with that fairy story, think of "Beauty and the Beast" with an epic northern adventure setting. The author has chosen to set her story in a realistic and detailed sixteenth century Norway with main characters that are fully developed, with individual personalities and human quirks. The other feature of this book is the author's use of several voices to tell the tale. The chapters are short, and each one headed by the name of the character speaking. As a result, we hear from five different points of view: the Father of the family, Neddy the heroine's older brother, Rose the 15-year-old protagonist, the Troll Queen who is Rose's antagonist and the White Bear or "Beast" of the piece.
The use of the various narrative voices could make the story difficult to follow for some, but it adds a dimension in that we get to learn more about their thoughts. As an example, we learn why the Troll Queen acts the way she does, making her less of a villain. We also pick up snippets of the Bear-man's thoughts as he struggles against the magic that holds him.
The plot begins with the mother's superstitions about children being born with their mother facing the various points of the compass and how that affects their character and lives. Rose, the leading character, is supposed to be born facing east. East-born children are quiet, practical and obedient. Instead, Rose is born facing north, and north-born children are wild, wanderers, explorers, and there is a prediction that their north-born child "will die a cold horrible death, suffocating under ice and snow.” The family suffers several setbacks, and when they reach a desperate state, a large white bear comes to the door with a proposal: if they allow Rose to come with him, the sick would be cured and the family would become wealthy.
Rose is carried by the white bear to a castle beneath a mountain where she lives with him, weaving cloth and, unknown to her, part of what has to be done to break a spell laid on a son of the King of France by the Troll Queen. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and the Troll Queen wins and carries off the white bear man.
An epic tale of travel to distant lands begins when Rose decides to atone for her mistake by following the Troll Queen to rescue the man who was once a bear. The characters she meets along the way are fully developed as well, adding to the richness of the experience.
If I had any complaint, the ending seems to come all too quickly, but that is not too unusual in epic tales.
The author has taken the time to research the setting of this fairy story which makes it a cut above the ordinary. The book is lengthy, at 507 pages, but will hold the interest of the reader. While promoted as a young adult novel, I believe that many adult readers of the fantasy genre will enjoy this read as well.
Ronald J. Hore, involved with the Canadian Authors Association and writer's workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.