Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Cassie Dasent grew up in a research station on the Arctic Ice, learning
to survive on the frozen tundra and to track polar bears when most
children her age were learning cursive and long division. The ice is all
she’s ever known and all she’s ever wanted to know. The only thing
missing from her life is a mother, a mother who died just after Cassie
was born – unless you believe the story her grandmother tells about how
Cassie’s mother was the daughter of the North Wind, and who promised her
infant daughter to be the bride of the Polar Bear King in exchange for
permission to stay with the mortal man she loved and was then blown to
the land of the trolls by her father as punishment. Which of course,
Cassie does not, not anymore.
Until the giant polar shows up on
her birthday, a polar bear unfazed by tranquilizer darts, a polar bear
who walks through solid glaciers, calls to Cassie by name, and has come
to claim his bride. While she has little desire to be the wife of a
polar bear, Cassie agrees to go with him on one condition – he free her
mother from the land of the trolls. And so the bargain is struck.
Type of adaptation: Modernization
won’t say that I had misgivings about this book, because that’s too
strong a word with too many negative connotations, but I did have a
number of questions upon starting this book, not the least of which was,
How exactly is this story going to work when modernized, especially in
such a scientific setting? I can totally get behind the idea that if
there is magic left in the world, it’s in the Arctic regions mostly
unexplored. But a premise based so heavily on a scientific viewpoint?
That was what got me.
Yet Durst manages it surprisingly well.
is a very scientifically minded individual, and that doesn’t really
change even after she’s been introduced to the fact that magic is, in
fact, very real in her world. And it’s the fact that she continues to be
so scientifically minded that gives us the conflict in the first half
of the novel. Once she accepts that the giant polar bear she was
tracking because he’d give her dad’s team excellent data is, in fact,
the polar bear king from her grandmother’s old fairy tale, we get to see
Cassie’s scientific world come crashing into coexistance with the
magical world. And while there’s the part of Cassie that says, Hey, I’m a
modern woman and my mother can’t just promise me into a marriage!,
there’s also the part that says, okay, if this part of the story is
true, then my mother isn’t dead, she’s a prisoner, so hey, I’ve got a
bargaining chip. And she uses. She’ll marry the polar bear king, she
says, if he frees her mother. She’s told it’s impossible. She doesn’t
much care. That’s her price.
And so, she sets off with the Polar
Bear King, discovering as they travel that he’s not so much a king as a
mystical soul-ferrier, called a munaqsri. Basically, each species of
creature and plant has one of these munaqsri whose job is to collect the
souls of the dying and deliver them to the babies being born. If they
are late to a birth or they haven’t collected a soul, the newborn baby
will be stillborn. If they miss a death, the soul floats away beyond the
edges of the world. Bear, as he instructs Cassie to call him, is the
munaqsri for the polar bears, and he needs a wife because only the
children of munaqsri can become munaqsri themselves. Basically, he needs
an heir. Cassie’s not particularly happy to learn this, but she did
make a promise, and she will honor it, provided that things go slow and
she not be required to bear his child any time soon.
appreciate most about this character is that she is not even close to
being a weak-ass heroine. I knew Cassie and I were going to get along
all right when I read the scene where the stranger first enters her
room. In the darkness, she hears someone get into bed with her, and the
man claims to be Bear there to share the wedding bed, but Cassie is
adamant that she married a polar bear, not a human, so he needs to get
the hell out of her room. He says he can shift forms, but she’s having
none of it and threatens him with her ice axe. He calls her bluff, so
she swings it at his head until he leaves. Awesome.
What I also
appreciate about Bear’s character is that, yes, Cassie made a bargain,
but when he sees how unhappy she is, he’s willing to let her go, as he
was willing to do for her mother before her. All he wants is for her to
give him a chance, so that’s what he asks for. Specifically, the bargain
is that for every question he answers, she has to stay one day. And he
uses that time to show her the kind of life she could have with him,
with the magic he has to offer. And so one week turns into two and two
turns into three, and before long, Cassie is staying because she enjoys
the time she spends with him. In other words, they become friends. And,
after the night with the axe, he also makes it clear that he won’t renew
any romantic advances to Cassie unless she very clearly gives him the
okay. This polar bear is a gentleman, in other words.
Cassie’s homesickness sets in, Durst shows her modernization talents
because while, yes, a lot of it is genuine homesickness and a desire to
meet the mother she never knew, most of it is driven by the fact that
there is nothing for her to do in the palace. And this is a girl used to
doing things. She knows all about surviving on the ice and tracking
polar bears and running the station, and so for her to sit around all
day and have a magical polar bear carve ice sculptures of her is nothing
close to the purpose-driven life she was expecting to leave. And it’s
the prospect of that being her whole future that really drives her
desire to return home. But once she finds a way to to be useful to Bear
and keep occupied herself, she goes straight back, having learned that
she can’t reconcile living in the world she grew up in with all that she
now knows to be true. That, and, she’s realized she loves him.
he takes her new willingness for a relationship to mean a willingness
to bear his child, so he magically alters the precautions she’d taken
against that eventuality. In her anger, she lights the candle (or turns
on the flashlight, in this version) to see his human form, and I like
this touch – anger rather than curiosity or fear driving her – both
because it fits better with the relationship that’s been drawn and
because it adds another flaw to this character.
It’s no curse
that’s enacted this time, but rather a bargain made and broken, for the
price asked of Bear to free Cassie’s mother was that she never look upon
him in his human form. So now he has to go live with the trolls and
marry the troll princess, which is a problem in more ways than one.
are the old women in this version. Durst replaces them with the
munaqsri that Cassie goes to for help. Unfortunately, they’re far less
helpful than their fairy tale counterparts. At first, they won’t help
because Cassie is human, not munaqsri, and even though Bear is one of
them, he is considered beyond their reach. Also, with the polar bear
souls unclaimed, they’re free game for other munaqsri, which is good for
them because souls have a tendency to be scarce. We’re introduced to a
very interesting dynamic here, clearly shown a world in which even the
spirit guardians of species are in battle with each other, much like the
species themselves. But Cassie tries to win them back to her side by
revealing that she’s carrying a munaqsri child. Except that when they
learn this, they refuse to allow Cassie to put the baby in danger and so
essentially kidnap her.
It lends a very “Snow Queen” vibe to the
retelling, and presents one more challenge to Cassie’s journey,
especially as she’s in this captivity for several months, all the while
getting closer and closer to the time of delivery. And here enters
really the only qualm I have with this book. Cassie is pregnant,
probably eight months by the time she actually gets to the rescuing bit.
And over the course of her pregnancy, she almost starves in a
snowstorm, dives into the Arctic Sea, climbs a mountain, jumps off a
cliff, travels by violent wind, and many other dangerous things. Now, I
know that women miscarry from slipping and falling. So . . . magical
baby is magical? Eh, I guess I can buy that, but I will lift my eyebrow
The way that the trolls are handled in this
adaptation is masterful. They are seen as formless beings, ruled by
whoever can hold shape the longest. What they desire most is life. So
the deal they make with Cassie is Bear in exchange for her unborn child –
the same deal her mother was forced to make when Cassie was a baby. But
before Cassie can make her decision, the baby decides, hey, time to be
born! because, come on, that’s how stories work. Unfortunately, when the
human munaqsri appears, he has no soul for the baby, and that’s when
Cassie puts it together – the trolls, you see, are all those souls who
slipped through the munaqsri’s hands, and it is the Troll Princess that
becomes the baby’s soul.
To the checklist!
Kick-ass heroine with flaws? Yep. Cassie is a go-getter, stopping at absolutely nothing, willing to do the entirely insane if it means succeeding.That being said, she can also be selfish at times, and she's got a hell of a temper, which in this version, replaces the curiosity.
Dimension given to other players? Yes and yes. Durst has crafted really a wonderful cast of characters here, rich and interesting. Well done.
Repetition eliminated/contained? Yes. Cassie's journey never got old for me. I never felt like it was the same thing over and over.
this was a well-done adaptation. Yes, sometimes the science got a
little skewy – if a munaqsri not having a soul on hand causes
stillbirths, what is their explanation for miscarriages? – and there are
some eyebrow raising moments, but overall it’s well done. Cassie is a
fantastically flawed heroine, and the relationship between her and Bear
is built very convincingly. I had my doubts about a modernization with
this fairy tale, but I think Durst handled it very well, and this
adaptation is definitely worth the read.