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The Snow Queen
Eileen Kernaghan
Thistledown Press, 158 pages

The Snow Queen
Eileen Kernaghan
Eileen Kernaghan was born and raised in British Columbia's North Okanagan Valley. Currently living in New Westminster, she has, over the last 36 years, worked as a freelance writer and a writing instructor for various arts centres, adult education departments, schools and libraries. Her award winning Grey Isles trilogy is set in bronze age Europe and is based on the origins of Stonehenge. Journey to Aprilioth (1980) won the silver "Porgy" Award for original paperback fiction from the West Coast Review of Books. Songs from the Drowned Lands (1983) won the 1983/84 Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award, while the last book of the series, The Sarsen Witch was shortlisted for the same award. Dance of the Snow Dragon, a young adult fantasy novel with a Tibetan Buddhist background, was published in 1995 by Thistledown Press. Kernaghan's poems and short stories have appeared in PRISM international, OnSpec, Tesseracts, TransVersions, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Northern Stars, and Ark of Ice: Canadian Future Fictions. Her poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling Award, and she is one-fifth of the poetry group Quintet, who recently published their first collection, Quintet: Themes and Variations.

The Snow Queen won an Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English.

Eileen Kernaghan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
E-TEXT - Poetry: "Re-incarnate"
Interview: "Road to Shambhala"

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The Snow Queen is a young adult fantasy based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen." The book is a fast-paced, adventure-laden story of the contrasting lives of two 19th century girls, one raised in the "civilized" portion of Scandinavia, the other the daughter of a shaman and a robber-baron of Lapland. Together they must confront the Ice Queen, sorceress of the icy Northern wastes.

When Gerda leaves home to track down Kai, the boy she wishes would return her love and who has gone North with a mysterious countess to study arcane subjects, she little expects to become the captive of a robber baron of Northern Finland and his daughter's pet plaything. Ritva, the shaman's headstrong daughter comes to realize that Gerda is not just a human pet, fit only to amuse her. Together they seek the Snow Queen's castle in the Northern fastness. Gerda's rational and common sense approach, along with Ritva's innate fey nature and her reindeer, Ba, allow them to release Kai and escape. Ultimately though, Gerda can see that Kai will never truly be interested in her.

As a book for young adults The Snow Queen is just fine, proceeding quickly but in an exciting and page-turning manner. However, the best of childrens' literature reads well for both youngsters and adults, though obviously on different levels. For an older reader The Snow Queen lacks somewhat in depth and, in several instances, I would have liked a particular scene or narrative to continue longer and in more detail. The narrative often skipped forward several weeks or months. This to a certain extent is probably due to the fairy tale source/style, a genre which frequently uses such leaps in time or space, but in The Snow Queen this often precluded anything but the sketchiest details of the society and landscapes around the two young women. Particularly in the case of Gerda's life in the robber baron's community, one only gets a fleeting view of their rough communal life, and very little of the Saami traditions of Ritva, her mother and of the Saami wise-women. I, and presumably older juvenile readers, would find The Snow Queen far more fascinating if the book had delved in much greater detail in these areas.

Perhaps a function of my adult sensibilities, but some passages seemed rather unrealistic, even for a fairy tale. Gerda spends several months among the robber baron community, under the protection of Ritva, but apparently does nothing and is in no way involved in day to day life. I would think it unlikely that a society living under such harsh conditions would allow someone consuming food and water and having shelter among them to have a completely free-ride, even if they were the shaman's daughter's little pet. Additionally, her experience living as a captive among these people seems to have had no effect whatsoever on her personality. Besides this, when Ritva and Gerda confront the Snow Queen, they seem, ultimately, to have a very easy time defeating her, enduring overall a minimum of hardships.

While I realize that second-guessing an author is setting oneself up for some "if you're such an expert why don't you write a novel yourself" and the usual view of the critic is as one quite capable of destroying but of insufficient mettle to actually create; however, upon finishing this book I must admit that it immediately stuck me how much more interesting it might have been had Gerda been forced to marry among the robber baron community, escaped to free Kai, discovered his lack of interest in her, and returned to her husband with the realization that he at least wanted her. Ultimately, what I might have hoped for would be more in the Norse saga genre, dark and with a tragic edge, than the more mystical and less dark influence of the Finnish epic The Kalevala.

Overall, The Snow Queen is a book which should entertain its target audience -- the younger component of the young adult market -- but which will leave the more mature reader perhaps wanting more. The two young women are certainly interesting and sympathetic characters and their adventures worth a read if for no other reason than to lead young readers to works like Andersen's Fairy Tales and the Kalevala.

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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