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.

Once Upon A Time Challenge VI

I’m so glad that Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge has started. I have been looking forward to it since weeks. Every since I have finished Robin McKinley’s Chalice and was in the mood to read more fairy tale retellings and fantasy.

If you want to know the details of the challenge, do please visit Carl’s blog. You have different challenge levels and four genres to choose from: Fairy tales, Folklore, Mythology and Fantasy. The challenge runs from March 21st to June 19th. There will be two readalongs as well. The first one in April – Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, the second in May – Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I would love to join for Mistborn.

I will be busy in the next few months and so I decided to do The Journey which is only one book.

One reason why challenges are so much fun is the fact that one can make a list. Although I have only committed to one book, I may read more. I want to focus on fairy tale retellings and fantasy this year and here a few of my possible choices.

Ash by Malinda Jo

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy

Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffmann

How about you? What are you going to read?