Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: September 14th, 2009
Length: 308 pages
When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.
Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.
That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her
I love my retellings and it’s hard to go wrong with my favorite, East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon. I’ve read a handful of retellings of that one, but this is the first time the retelling has been set in contemporary times. Yay!
Cassie is a smart, but mostly very dedicated/stubborn/persistent young woman, and she uses science and survival skills to beat the odds. There is magic, of course, but it was nice to read a retelling that relied more on the protagonist than on her assistants throughout her journey. Also, I love the idea of a moonaqsri and how Bear’s magic is portrayed- it brings a sense of wonder into the science, or perhaps brings science into the magic, but either way, taking something that’s a basic part of nature and blurring the lines between explainable and mystical is fun.
Bear, of course, is a love- funny, kind, patient, and earnest. It’s easy to see how months with him open Cassie’s heart….very much shades of Beauty and the Beast (as well as Eros and Psyche). I also thought the awkward separation between Cassie and her mother was handled well, given the circumstances. Although it felt odd that Cassie wouldn’t miss her father and “uncles”, her independence and self-reliance account for some of that.
It’s clear that Durst did her homework on Arctic survival, polar bears, Inuit language (at least, I hope she did her homework there), and the adjacent biomes to the Arctic. Overall, as retellings go, this one was a fun twist on the original tale, and I recommend it for fans of East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon.