At this point, everyone is probably sick of “Let It Go,” resultant jokes about letting “let it go” go, and anything to do with animated Norse princesses or their sentient snow sidekicks. Which is fine, because even though this is based on the same myth, “The Snow Queen,” it’s nothing like Frozen. Well, aside from the snow. And the Scandinavia. And the reindeer. And the main character does need to let some stuff go. And the young man is a jerk. And there is a journey to an ice castle.
Okay, yes, I see your point. But it’s not. It’s the grown-up’s Frozen. Yes, there are two women of roughly the same age who go on an adventure, but they’re not sisters. (They are definitely not sisters.) And neither of them is the Snow Queen. Gerta is, in point of fact, quite the opposite of the Snow Queen. She’s sturdy and a bit unsure of herself, but she’s filled with hope and love. The Queen, however, is a haughty, selfish spirit who only wants to crush that which she thinks is beneath her. And almost everything is beneath her as she flies about the world on her bone-white sleigh–everything but a few rare boys. Everything but Kay.
Kay has been Gerta’s not-so-secret crush since just about forever. They’re neighbors and playmates, or at least they can be when Kay is in a decent mood. But he can also be sullen and reticent, quite above it all. So when the Snow Queen arrives one blizzardy day, he goes to her. He takes her hand. And Gerta, who witnesses it all from her window, is paralyzed by the Snow Queen’s magic. This doesn’t deter her, however, from undertaking a great quest once the Queen has gone. She’s going to rescue Kay from the Queen’s clutches. She doesn’t know how, though, so it’s fortunate that she meets a wisecracking raven and a bandit girl and some plants (yes–plants–you’ll see) and a band of otters. And it’s fortunate that she will find a way to traverse the great Reindeer Roads, the mystic paths that will lead her to the heart of winter and the coldest heart in the world.
Everything T. Kingfisher writes is magnificent. It’s just so delightful and heartfelt and brilliant, with an emphasis on the brilliant. So often fairytale retellings feel forced, as if the author started with some kind of hook or twist that he thought was clever and then tried to cram an entire mythos into it and grind an entire story out of it. It’s like making sausage: maybe it tastes good, but you’re pretty suspicious about the whole endeavor.
Not so with The Raven and the Reindeer. Every time I read one of her books, it’s like settling in with a box of expensive chocolates. You can predict some of what you’re going to get (some wry humor, a kickass heroine, a helpful animal companion), but not all of it, but everything is certain to be smooth and scrumptious. I always end up devouring her books in a single day, since they’re fast paced and the prose is lovely without being flowery. And, in this case, the research into Finnish customs and Scandinavian living is excellent, and blended perfectly into the narrative without becoming pedantic. It’s just such an indulgent joy to be part of Kingfisher’s worlds. I want nothing more than for her to take on every single one of Hans Christen Anderson’s stories (and the Grimms’, while we’re at it) and remake them in her own style, so that I can go on indulging in them forever.