Fairy Tale Retelling by Edith Pattou
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Like a lot of people, I count East of the Sun and West of the Moon as one of my favourite fairy tales. I might even like it better than Kari Woodengown / All-Fur and their variations. So I could be a little biased in this book’s favour. However, I could also be overly critical towards adaptations of my favourites. I guess it all comes out even in the end.
Rose, the youngest of eight children, is a little wild but ultimately a good kid. She enjoys weaving and after a strange encounter with a white bear when she was young, included an imaginary version in her childhood adventures. Her father is a map maker turned farmer, and her mother is a ridiculously superstitious person whose belief that birth direction influences a child’s life causes rather a lot of problems. Rose was supposed to be an east-born child, but there was some confusion at the time of her birth. Evidence points north, which is supposed to mean a wild, wandering person.
Some people have said the book is too long, and that may be true. The story covers a lot, and it doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to cover the fairy tale point by point without expanding. (the opposite, in fact) The beginning goes all the way back before Rose was even born, which is accomplished by her father and next oldest brother Neddy being narrators as well as Rose. There are five narrators total, which might bother some readers. However, the chapters are generally quite short, and I do think Rose ends up having the majority of them. I didn’t mind the many POV shifts, but I think it’s a valid complaint.
Everything that happens is interesting, from stories about Rose’s birth and early childhood, to establishing her love of and talent for weaving, as well as developing quite a few important side characters. But it does take quite a while to get to the white bear and Rose’s going away with him.
As a retelling, East does a good job of following the story of the fairy tale faithfully while also adding content and context for explaining things that in a fairy tale would simply be left out or assumed. Perhaps as a result of so much addition, plot points that might be expected due to familiarity with the original story can feel like they’re being strung out or “kept from” the reader.
I loved the background for why the white bear had been transformed, and the method of changing him back worked wonderfully well. It draws from the fairy tale without seeming out of place or tacked on. The Inuit people whom Rose met and the shaman who travelled with her up to the final stretch of her journey are some of the best parts of the book. An upside of the greater length of this book is that all of the subplots come to a satisfying end, with no threat of being forgotten or failing to wrap up.
If you like East of the Sun and West of the Moon, you’ll probably want to read this regardless of anyone else’s opinion. Fortunately, I can say that it is, at the very least, worth your time, and at best will be a beloved retelling.