Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

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“When a great white bear promises untold riches to her family, the Lass agrees to go away with him. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle. To unravel the mystery, the Lass sets out on a windswept journey beyond the edge of the world. Based on the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with romantic echoes of Beauty and the Beast, this re-imagined story will leave fans of fantasy and fairy tale enchanted by Jessica Day George.”

–Amazon

I’ve had this book on my ‘to read list’ for over two years, and was thrilled when I received it as a Christmas gift this year. I had no idea what to expect, but the premise looked entertaining, and I already owned another book by the same author that I quite enjoyed, so I decided to take some time the day after Christmas and read a chapter or two.

By the second page, I was hooked, and knew I’d be reading much further than anticipated. Several hours (and too many Christmas snacks) later, I finished reading the book. I don’t normally have time to ingest a book in one sitting, and I don’t usually sit still long enough to do so, but I was utterly captivated by Jessica Day George’s story of a girl with no name and the adventure she embarks upon in this novel.

The story is a re-telling of a Nordic legend entitled East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but also has elements from several other tales including: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, the story of Cupid and Psyche from Greek Mythology, and Beauty and the Beast. In some cases, the blending of an original idea plus so many stories would be tedious, and seem contrived, but in this scenario, it was the opposite. The story was fresh, and although it held allusions to other tales, it was authentic in its own right, and extremely creative. It was clear the author did her research (there’s even a select biography in the back of the book), but the research only added texture to the story.

George spun her tale with apparent ease. The plot moved forward at a pace that was engaging, the prose was clean and crisp, and the characters developed as the story progressed. I will say that the style of the book is very ‘simple,’ in the way a fairy tale is ‘simple’ at first, but George manages to hide subtlety within the pages of this re-told fairy tale.

As in the tradition of fairy tales, some of the characters remain static (unchanging), and some felt a bit underdeveloped at times, but that is the way that traditional fairy tales go. The focus was on the heroine, and in this case, it worked for me. Our unnamed girl goes through a journey that forces her to grow up and look at how her decisions affect not only herself, but those around her in a wider circle. She learns the importance of honesty, humility, and of putting others before herself. George’s focused attentions on her main character were well spent. I went from liking the protagonist, to not liking her, to respecting her in the end.

Before I write any more on the subject, I need to submit my one and only hesitation about the story. This will include SPOILERS.

*** BEGIN SPOILER ZONE ***

The lass’s world is under a reign of terror from the Troll Queen and her daughter. The Troll Princess brings havoc on the lives of men. Every century or so, she decides to find a new husband, but no man would want to marry a troll, so she forces them. Her first husband struck a deal with her that once a husband is chosen, he may live away from the Princess for a year in a castle of ice. The only catch: the man is transformed into a polar bear by day, then back to a man each night (think Swan Princess). If, while in bear form, he can find a maiden to live in the castle as a ‘bride’ for one year, without looking at his face during the night, the spell will be broken.

When the heroine of our story goes to live at the palace, she is alarmed because each night, a stranger climbs into bed with her and sleeps there. There is no sexual promiscuity, they do not even kiss, or touch. He just sleeps in the same bed with her because the rule states that she has to be a ‘bride.’ It is very chaste.

There is also a scene near the end of the novel where the Lass rescues the Prince, but is locked in a room with him for a whole night without enchanted sleep. George has them talk, kiss once, and the Prince kisses her hands…there is no other explanation of the events of the evening.

***END SPOILER ZONE***

Would I recommend the book? Yes, I would, with one hesitation that I raised above. The book, as a whole, inspired me as a writer in the best way possible.

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.

A.

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The House of Hades – Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus Book 4

House of Hades

Yes, I’m kicking off this blog with a post about the fourth book in a series. Bad form? Possibly. But I couldn’t sit quietly by and let this opportunity slip past.

I have loved this author for about four years now. The majority of his works are wholesome, educational, and tremendously fun for the young adult (and even adult) community. If you are not familiar with the world of Percy Jackson, please visit the link below read about the first book, “The Lightening Thief.” There is a lot of information in that ‘Rationale’ but some of my favorite points about the first book, I’ve quoted from the website:

“The uneasy mix of Classical Greek and Roman heritage and Judeo-Christian values is the oldest conflict in Western Civilization. Understanding both strands, which blended to form our modern culture, is critical to becoming an informed member of society. The Lightning Thief explores Greek mythology in a modern setting, but it does so as a humorous work of fantasy, and makes no attempt to subvert or contradict Judeo-Christian teachings. Early in the book, the character Chiron draws a clear distinction between God, capital-G, the creator of the universe, and the Greek gods (lower-case g). Chiron says he does not wish to delve into the metaphysical issue of God, but he has no qualms about discussing the Olympians because they are a “much smaller matter.” The gods of Olympus are depicted as powerful beings who interact with their children and demand respect. They are archetypal forces deeply embedded in and inseparable from Western thought. However there is no suggestion within the book that pagan god worship be revived, or that it replace modern religion. Rather, the whole of Western culture is seen as a tribute to the enduring legacy of Olympus.

Similarly, the fantastical elements in the novel are drawn directly from Greek mythology, and thus operate at a deeply symbolic level. As with all stories based on the hero’s quest, The Lightning Thief presents monsters as external manifestations of the internal conflicts Percy must win to achieve his coming of age. The fight with Medusa is symbolic of the tension between Percy and Annabeth. The gorgon is the age-old grudge between their parents which the two children must put behind them. Facing the Chimera in the St. Louis Arch is really about Percy facing his own fears of inadequacy. The trip to the Underworld is central to Percy’s changing world view. When he returns to his family, he realizes he cannot simply petrify his step-father, as much as they loathe each other, because Percy now understands something about mortality and the responsibilities that go with his power. He appreciates the consequences of taking a life. Despite the trappings of fantasy, Percy is no magician. He must rely on his sword skills, his strength, and most of all his wits to think his way out of problems.”

— Source: http://www.rickriordan.com/my-books/percy-jackson/resources/rationale.aspx

That being said, I felt that Riordan crossed a few boundaries in his latest installment.

First of all, If you haven’t read the Percy Jackson or the Heroes of Olympus series, have no fear. I will give fair warning before any spoilers happen in this blog.

Secondly, I will be reviewing the Percy Jackson series book by book on here in the future.

Without further ado:

My review of The House of Hades.

(Note – most reviews will contain more plot/writing style/character development topics but there were some issues in House of Hades that need to be addressed).

After reading The House of Hades, I was stunned by the amount of violence that was in this book. Yes, the characters had to face many challenges, and they all proved worthy, but I was alarmed by the amount of anger that presented itself in most of the characters. They’re ‘growing up’ and losing innocence. I get that. I also get why Riordan pushed his characters to the breaking point. He took each one of them and made them confront their biggest doubts, fears, and insecurities. He had to do that as an author to allow his characters the maturity they needed for the final battle. Okay, that’s good character development, BUT, the way he left them straggling, taking on the adult roles, having to BE adults at 13, 15, 16, 17…etc. I did not appreciate.
A major theme in the novel was Anger. Each character had to make a choice to let anger rule them, or to let go of it.  Only one or two of the characters showed remorse for their anger, or really questioned the reason behind the anger. Once it was said that a character had to let go of anger or have it destroy them…but no way was given as to HOW that was possible.
Maybe Riordan will address this in the fifth book, maybe not. But I was disappointed by the tremendous reliance on anger and the lack of a way to process that anger.

Now on to the next point…once the story was finished, I immediately jumped onto the review sections of Amazon and Good Reads to see how Rick’s ‘surprise revelation’ about a certain character’s sexual orientation went over with the readers.

I’ve seen a good many people who are in full support of ‘Uncle Rick’ as he likes to be called by his readers, and many who have made a bold statement of never buying books from the author again.

Where do I fall?

Well,
First of all, let me say that I’m NOT going to send back my book, and yes, I will read the last of the series, but I am disappointed. The introduction to homosexuality is NOT why I’m disappointed, not in itself. I am disappointed because of the way it was introduced, how it was handled, and because the book had no parental warning or any pretext before the introduction.

After the ‘reveal’, a lot of people laid down the story and said goodbye to Riordan’s world. Many others whooped and cheered for an author who wasn’t afraid to be ‘real’ with his audience.

I kept reading, wanting to see how Riordan handled the revelation during the rest of the story.
My conclusion – there were probably several reasons why Riordan went the way he did, and there are also several reasons why I think he made a poor choice in the way he handled the situation.

1. Riordan was a teacher. He taught middle school, and even began his YA writing career by telling stories to his son at bedtime. As a teacher, it’s heartbreaking to see a student not connecting with others, because they feel as if they’d be bullied, shamed, or cut out if they let their guard down. You want to help them. You want to tell them that their identity does not lie in their sexuality(whether homosexual or heterosexual), that they are so much more than that. I feel for Riordan if he was trying to take a stand against the bullying, or the suffocating silence so many teens face today.

BUT — that being said: Rick could have (out of respect for his readers) put in a statement in the back of the book, put out a parental warning with the book, or could have done a written ‘reading group discussion guide’ so that families could have walked this path together. IF Riordan was trying to show that a character is more than their sexual orientation, to take a stand against bullying in schools, then he could have done so in a more appropriate manner.

2. As a writer, Rick Riordan, with the way he handled this, distracted from his own story.
Any artist – when they take yank the audience out of the ‘absorbing experience’ (whether in a visual medium, theater, music, writing…etc) to push an agenda, or to be ‘shocking,’ they break the author/audience trust.

As an artist, you have to know your audience, and respect the limitations your audience gives you. Yes, Riordan’s characters are growing up, yes they’re facing many challenges, but that does NOT mean that younger children aren’t still wrapped up in the series, and aren’t emotionally ready to dive into the discussion of homosexuality without some guidance. Riordan didn’t offer any of that guidance. I hope he gives his characters that guidance in the final installment to the series.

Riordan drew his readers out of his world, out of the story. Maybe that’s what he intended. Maybe he wanted to spark discussion between students, teachers, parents. I do not know. But anything that distracts from the overall story in such a way as to yank a reader out of the world of the book is not usually a good idea.

Let me say again, I’m not attacking Riordan’s character choices. I think the character that was revealed to be dealing with same gender attraction was and is a fascinating character, but the way in which Riordan created the ‘reveal’ did more harm than anything for the fan base.

3. The way the revelation came was dramatic, climactic, literarily gorgeous, but ultimately forced and destructive. Cupid/Eros, a malignant force, pulled the secret to the surface in a humiliating way. Love is deeper than anger. Forcing a secret of that nature from someone induces shame, fear, and regret. It victimizes the person. I feel that Riordan made a victim out of that character in this book by not allowing some resolution or peace to be given to the character.

As of now, so many readers are angry about the fact that someone has to deal with unrequited love. There is so much more to the story than romantic love. Friendship, acceptance, mercy, compassion, bravery, sacrifice…these are all themes of the story…but now the focus seems to be on whether or not everyone will have a date to the ‘Olympian Senior Prom.’

Would I recommend this author anymore? Yes. I would…but definitely NOT as unreservedly as I would have a few weeks ago. I would let any parent know beforehand about the violence and the character reveal so that they could read it, and choose for themselves if this series is right for their family.

Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts!

A.

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