Crown of Ice (Month9Books, 2014) by Vicki L. Weavil is a retelling of “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen. Crown of Ice is told from the point of view of the Snow Queen, a miss Thyra Winther. In this retelling, we learn that the infamous mirror is indeed scattered in shards, not specks. Whomever is Snow Queen must finish reassembling the mirror by her 18th birthday or be turned into a wraith. Snow Queens are chosen by Mael Voss, a wizard, who bestows a new Snow Queen with wintery powers after the previous queen fails at her task and turns into a wraith. He wants the mirror reassembled to gain immortality, but for some reason he cannot piece it together himself. The story begins when Thyra is 5 months from her 18th birthday and deadly deadline.
Thyra really is a cold-hearted witch. When she feels threatened by an enchantress with a garden of flowers that blooms year round, Thyra kills the garden: “I call down withering cold and a blighted frost. I wish death upon everything green and growing.” After beautiful descriptions of the garden, Thyra’s death frost seems twice as heartless. Weavil expertly reminds readers in small ways that Thyra may technically be human, but she has no love in her. I enjoyed the distance and possible hatred I was led to feel for Thyra in the beginning.
A strange choice on Weavil’s part is the use of present tense, which has tripped me up more than once. Thyra says things like “I walk” and “I sigh.” Lately, present tense has been used more and more by authors, but it’s also highly criticized as a gimmick designed to make readers feel like they’re right there, every second, with a character. I found it distracting, as fairy tales are old and don’t feel instant.
At times, Weavil’s writing style is tiresome. When the narrator does describes her world, it’s always in a subject + verb sentence structure:
“We speed away as Kai spares me one last glance. He can see nothing, of course, but whiteness. I have conjured a blinding drift of snow in this one small corner of the world, obscuring everything from view. I have failed today–a failure that may cost me all my tomorrows. But I won’t allow that to happen. I must design a better plan, that’s all.”
This grocery list sort of writing fades away as the book goes along, and only then did I begin to get comfortable enough with the writing to want to pick the novel up more often and enjoy the story. Yet, when the sentence structures were all similar, it was the only thing I could pay attention to.
Since Weavil is following some of the plot of Andersen’s original, she must also invent plots to fill in the gaps. In Crown of Ice, Thyra must use mathematical equations to figure out how to put the pieces of the mirror back together. Why? It’s never explained, but I did appreciate Weavil’s not-so-subtle encouragement of women excelling in math. In fact, only one person can rival Thyra’s math skills: a 17-year-old boy named Kai. She realizes that without Kai, she won’t finish the mirror in time, so Thyra comes up with a few plans to lure the boy to her palace to help her. This is where the novel had me dragging me heels, what made me take over a week to finish the novel.
The Snow Queen’s plans are embarrassing, really. She kills a wolf with puppies so she can steal one. Killing the mother and leaving the other pups to freeze to death was one of those great moments that made me hate Thyra. However, she tries to use Kai’s love of animals to lure Kai into her sled to ride into the mountains, claiming she wants to take the puppy to live with some other wolf pack she has seen. It sounds like a lie as Thyra’s saying it. My first thought was of a college boy trying to trick an unsuspecting girl back to his place.
One of the benefits of the puppy plan not working is that now Thyra has a wolf–Luki–that follows her around. Luki was the best character in Crown of Ice. Weavil’s descriptions of the animal suggest she has a lot of experience with large dogs and is able to capture their expressions, sounds, and strange bouncy behaviors in detail. I honestly couldn’t get enough of Luki.
But, Thyra’s next plan is to take Kai’s hat with a snow storm. Without his hat, he’ll freeze to death, so he’ll have to get in her sleigh. That’s the whole plan. Mind you, Thyra lives in a palace made of ice, which is located far from Kai’s village. She’s spending the greater part of a day travelling to execute these schemes. Each scheme is a vehicle to add something small but necessary to the plot, but the half-cocked plans were a disappointing way for Weavil to move the things forward.
Still, I love that Weavil doesn’t take the work relationship between Thyra and Kai as an opportunity to go romance. Whereas most novels have two-dimensional heroines, Thyra is empty but strong, deadly and calculating. Intelligence is important to her success, and working with a male doesn’t change her goal. Thyra the Snow Queen is often described as angular, frosty white, almost freakish in appearance, as opposed to some sexy witch.
Hans Christan Andersen’s original story has a girl, Gerda, seek Kai after he leaves their hometown with the Snow Queen, because Gerda and Kai are friends. In Crown of Ice, Gerda loves Kai, and this innocent 15 year old wants to marry him. Often, Thyra would stop work on the mirror to attempt to thwart Gerda’s attempts to find Kai. Thyra is worried that somehow Gerda would convince Kai to leave his work on the mirror, though he has reasons to stay of his own will. After months of Gerda wandering, I wondered, “Why is Thyra messing around with this girl? Just finish the mirror!” Weavil may be working in Gerda because she was in the original story, but again the choices of how to move the plot forward felt illogical.
The pacing of Crown of Ice sometimes speeds up too much, killing the disbelief I’ve suspended or the emotions I was feeling. Near the end of the novel, Thyra and Kai are seeking 3 missing piece of the mirror. It is discovered that years ago, two pieces were stolen by some explorers who then had one of those pieces stolen from them by a nomadic group. What are the chances of the Snow Queen finding one piece of mirror, I asked. No one knows where the nomads are, or if they would remember a piece of mirror, or if the clue suggesting nomads have the mirror piece is correct. Even Thyra feels the chances are so small, but she finds the nomadic people after literally 3 paragraphs of setting out to find the missing bit.
In another scene, an animal is killed, and in that moment the author totally broke my heart. But when the creature is resuscitated (though no one knows how) a few sentences after the death, my feelings are immediately snatched from me. I felt cheated, like I had been sad for no reason and it was all just playing around anyway.
Unlike the darkest of fairy tales, in which characters frequently suffer or perish, the ending of Crown of Ice is a bit happily-ever-after and with a smidgen of lecture about good people and the reasons to get a good education. Was I surprised things worked out? Not really. All of Weavil’s previous pages suggested she wouldn’t make her readers feel bad, as if feeling sadness or disappointment is a sin. A little too wrapped-with-a-bow and gappy in logic, Crown of Ice left me feeling a bit cold.
I want to thank Vicki L. Weavil for sending me a copy of Crown of Ice for review in exchange for an honest opinion. I have no personal or professional relationship with this author. To learn more about her work, read Vicki’s “Meet the Writer” feature here on Grab the Lapels.