Alice Hoffman: The Ice Queen (2005)

I don’t know many writers whose first sentences draw you into a novel like Alice Hoffman does

Be careful what you wish for. I know that for a fact. Wishes are brutal unforgiving things. They burn your tongue the moment they are spoken and you can never turn them back. They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you. I’ve made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old.

This is the lesson the narrator learns when she is still a little girl at the beginning of Alice Hoffman’s novel The Ice Queen. In a moment of intense anger she wishes her mother dead. A few hours later she and her brother are informed that their mother has died in a car accident. This freezes the narrator’s heart. Nobody will ever be allowed to approach her emotionally, she is shut down. She will live like a spectator, never get involved. When she is older she becomes a librarian, lives with her grandmother, has a lover, a policeman. Apart from being interested in all the possible ways someone can die, her life is uneventful. When her grandmother passes away, she decides to leave New Jersey and move to Florida where her brother lives.

She finds a job at the local library and resumes her uneventful life until she is struck by lightning. That changes everything. She joins a local support group and makes friends with a fellow lightning strike victim, Renny. When she hears of Seth, the man who is called Lazarus, because he returned from the dead, she starts to develop an obsession and finally follows him until he lets her into his house and his heart. The relationship they begin is one of intense passion and not very healthy. They are both initially trying to hide dark secrets from each other but ultimately their relationship will help them reveal and accept them.

The Ice Queen is a peculiar story. To some extent it is a re-imagination of  Andersen’s fairy tale The Ice Queen but many other tales have been incorporated and are mentioned throughout the book. Beauty and the Beast is as important as Amor & Psyche. And fairy tales are also present as topic. The narrator speaks about them, mentions them.

The main character isn’t very appealing, I can’t say I ever sympathized with her and her life much but I learned a world of things I didn’t know about lightning strike victims. How tragic it is, how much your life can be altered by it, the wounds, the scars. The worst that happens to the narrator is that she looses the ability to see the color red. This triggers the love story with Seth because she dresses and behaves differently just because all that was formerly red to her looks white. It’s amazing to imagine something like this and I found it fascinating to see the world described through the eyes of someone who sees white instead of all the shades of red. While it seems visual problems are common in lightning strike victims,  I’m not so sure something like this could happen but I was equally not sure that people could get so-called lightning figures that make them look as if whole trees had been burned into their skin. But then I looked it up and as amazing as it may seem, the phenomenon, which is called Lichtenberg figures, really exists (the link will guide you to some photos).

While as a whole this is one of the rare Alice Hoffman novels that didn’t work for me so much, there were a lot of amazing elements, as usual. One of the main characters, Renny, believes that every person has a defining secret and that it makes him or her tick. It’s an interesting concept and the novel elaborates on it.

I also liked the aspect that the narrator is a librarian and that for her each library card represents a person’s secrets. She thinks the information on it is as personal as diary entries.

What people read revealed so much about them that she considered our card catalog a treasure house of privileged secrets; each card contained the map of an individual’s soul.

I have read quite a lot of Alice Hoffman’s novels and find her a fascinating writer. Unusual and captivating and highly quotable. This isn’t one of her best in my opinion but it’s not bad at all. I just didn’t care much for the narrator and the story is based more on themes than plot which makes it somewhat disparate.

Of all the Hoffman novels I read so far I liked Seventh Heaven, Turtle Moon and The River King best. Second Nature and Here on Earth follow closely but I cared less for Practical Magic and Illumination Night.

Which is your favourite book by Alice Hoffman?

The review is a contribution to Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge. I am glad I made it. I had a list with several books and wanted to read at least one. I’ve read one and half. While book two – Patricia Mc Killip’s Solstice Wood – is much better than The Ice Queen, I will not be able to finish it this month.

Patricia A. McKillip: Winter Rose (1996)

They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the colour of buttermilk. But I saw him first – as a fall of light. And then as something shaping out of the light. So it seemed. There was a blur of gold: his hair. And then I blinked and saw his face more clearly.’ From that moment, Rois is obsessed with Corbett Lynn. His pale green eyes fill her thoughts and her dreams are consumed by tales of his family’s dark past. Of son’s murdering fathers, of homes fallen to ruin, and of a curse that, as winter draws in, is crawling from the frozen forest to engulf them all.

Ever since I read Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beast of Eld, I wanted to read another of her books. She is one of those writers who quietly write one novel after the other and every new book is greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by her fans. Despite her many fans McKillip isn’t a fantasy writer with a huge commercial success, for the simple reason  – I’m guessing – that she doesn’t write trilogies and series. All of her novels are standalones or diptychs, with the exception of The Riddle Master Trilogy. Most of her books are out of print but you can easily get cheap used copies. McKillip’s books are lovely and enchanting and distinctly influenced by fairy tales.

Winter Rose is a retelling of the Scottish tale of Tam Lin. It is a peculiar book and maybe not a typical McKillip because readers either love or hate it. I liked it a lot but can see why others might not have been equally charmed.

While Winter Rose starts like a normal fantasy novel, as soon as reality starts to shift, the writing reads like a fever dream. It is never really clear whether Rois, the main character, is dreaming, has entered another reality or a sort of parallel world. If you want to enjoy this book you have to just let go and follow the flow and not try too much to understand it rationally. It is a bit like reading poetry. Try to picture the images she creates of a world in which the forest can claim people, in which winter swallows everything, in which thorns and ivy weave a web so dense that there is no escaping them. The images are lush and hypnotic, the language is flowery.

Winter Rose isn’t a love story in a conventional sense although Rois falls in love with Corbet the moment she lays eyes on him or rather the moment he materializes before her eyes. Corbet has never been seen in the village in which Rois, her father, her sister Laurel and Laurel’s fiancé Perrin live. It is said that Corbet’s father killed his own father and was cursed. Lynn Hall, the family home, has been standing empty since then and the forest has claimed it back. It is nothing more than an overgrown ruin.

Corbet starts to renovate the house and, accepting Rois’ fathers kind dinner invitations, spends many evenings in their house, talking and laughing with them. Both girls are equally fascinated by Corbet’s mysterious story and want to know everything about him. As much as Rois is infatuated, she is no fool and senses that there is something between Corbet and her sister.

The storytelling is very hypnotic and evokes different layers of reality that are interwoven. When Rois starts to spy on Corbet and follows him into the woods, the realities start to shift for good. There is a strange presence in this other world. Something is waiting in the wood. Is it the Spirit of the Forest, a Guardian, a Faerie? Whatever it is, it is a disquieting being and seems to lure people. Is this the place where Corbet’s father is?

Another mystery that Rois tries to solve is what happened to their mother who died when Rois was just a baby. It is told that Winter took her, she wasn’t ill, she just stopped living. And why has Rois “wood eyes” and sees more than other people?

One day Corbet disappears and Rois goes after him. She crosses the threshold between this world and the other one, and discovers a lot of things that no one else knows.

There really is a lot to like in this novel. The language is poetical and rich in images and Rois is a lovely girl. She is wild and free-spirited and loves to roam the forest. She knows all the medicinal herbs and plants and makes teas and potions for the people of the village.

Despite all the positive aspects, this isn’t a book for everyone. There is simply not enough in terms of story, as said, it is much more like a fever dream.

I’m still in the mood to read another of Patricia A. McKillips novels.  Does anyone have suggestions? I got The Forests of Serre here. Which is your favourite McKillip book?

Winter Rose was my second book for the Once Upon A Time V Challenge.

Sarah Blakley-Cartwright: Red Riding Hood (2011) The Book Based on the Movie

Valerie’s sister was beautiful, kind, and sweet. Now she is dead. Henri, the handsome son of the blacksmith, tries to console Valerie, but her wild heart beats fast for another: the outcast woodcutter, Peter, who offers Valerie another life far from home.
After her sister’s violent death, Valerie’s world begins to spiral out of control. For generations, the werewolf has been kept at bay with a monthly sacrifice. But no one is safe. When an expert wolf hunter arrives, the villagers learn that the creature lives among them – it could be anyone in town.
It soon becomes clear that Valerie is the only one who can hear the voice of creature. The Wolf says she must surrender herself before the Blood Moon wanes . . . or everyone she loves will die..

A few months ago I was browsing the Internet looking for the website of Fever Ray and that’s how I found the trailer of the movie Red Riding Hood for which Fever Ray has done the soundtrack.

There are hundreds of fairytale retellings out there. The range is incredible. From literary fiction to pulpy trash you find everything.

Ever since I have read Angela Carter’s Fairytale retellings and watched the movie The Company of Wolves I had a particular liking for the Little Red Riding Hood retellings. It has a few powerful elements that not all other fairy tales have, first of all the wolf and the red cloak. When it comes to the original fairytale it is far from being one of my favourites but what it inspires newer authors to do is often interesting.

For these reasons there was no way around the book Red Riding Hood as soon as I discovered it. The book is actually based on the movie, which makes the marketing strategy clear. This is even enhanced once you realize that what you hold in your hand isn’t the complete book. The last chapter is missing and can only be read online. This isn’t such a problem by now, as the movie has been released, but when I started reading, the chapter wasn’t accessible yet because the movie wasn’t playing.

The wolf in this version, like in some of the other retellings, is a werewolf. During the Blood Moon he lurks in the darkness and comes out of his hiding to kill the people of Daggorhorn. He hasn’t done so for a long time because he normally gets an offering but different circumstances lead to the killing of Valerie’s sister and from there to the death of other villagers. There is no stopping the wolf anymore.

The book works pretty much like a paranormal thriller. It is suspected that the werewolf must be from the village. Someone among the people they all know is transforming himself during the Blood Moon. Like in a proper thriller, there are many suspects. Red herrings abound and you really have to read until the final (online) chapter to find out who is the killer. Insofar it is quite gripping. I think it is possible to find out who it is but it is still entertaining.

What did not work for me are the characters. With the exception of the grandmother they are quite flat and interchangeable. The grandmother however is interesting, a witch-like, potion-cooking old woman who lives outside of society.

Another thing I didn’t like are the inconsistencies in the story. I had a feeling it was written very fast and there were really tacky moments too.

This probably sounds as if I had regretted to read this book but this is absolutely not the case. The descriptions are what I really liked. The little village, lost in the forest, the narrow medieval streets, the picturesque settings and most of all the house of the grandmother. The description of that house made the whole reading worthwhile. The grandmother lives in a tree house, outside of the fear-ridden village, high above everyone else. The interior of that house, the security it provides, is described very appealingly. I’m not going into details, those who want to read the novel should discover this for themselves.

All in all it was a fast read, a bit boring at times but still enjoyable and worthwhile thanks to the descriptions and settings. I shouldn’t forget to mention that there is also a romance part in the novel that did not work so well, or rather, the conflict keeping the lovers apart didn’t work.

I think you gathered that it is nowhere near as good as other retellings of the fairytale that’s why I decided to dedicate another post to a few of the really stunning examples.

Here is the Book’s Homepage with the final chapter.

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I might watch it since I like Fever Ray and Gary Oldman.

Red Riding Hood is my first contribution to the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Once Upon A Time Challenge

No matter what I said about challenges at the beginning of the year, forget it. Of course I’m joining the Once Upon A Time Challenge. I loved last year’s R.I.P. hosted by Carl and this is the lighter springtime side to R.I.P’s autumnal darkness. And I love fairy tales, folklore, fantasy and mythology.

There are different levels in the Once Upon A Time Challenge, please go there and find out all about it.

I decided to sign up for the Journey which leaves everything open from reading only one book to as many as I want, fiction and nonfiction.

I’m just about to finish a few fairy tale retellings, so this is timely in any case. I have a few ideas for other books I might read but I’m not sure it’s wise to tell it yet as I have seen in the last few weeks a few projects being left behind due to time constraints. The only book I am sure to review is Red Riding Hood and a few other retellings of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale.