Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Clubbing *Ice* by Sarah Beth Durst

Kiirstin, from a book a week, and I read Ice by Sarah Beth Durst and have online book-clubbed it here for you! Which is funny because we both live in the same city and I see her often enough--I guess we could have book clubbed in person. But for now I give you my review of Ice and a bit of our discussion, following. Click over to Kiirstin's blog to read the rest of our chat!


Sarah did a lot of research on the Arctic before writing Ice and it's most obvious use is in the fullness of the setting:

I buried myself in stacks of research books: polar bear books, explorer memoirs, field guides... I poured over A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic by E. C. Pielou. I tracked the GPS readings of David Hempleman-Adams's journey in his memoir Walking on Thin Ice. I studied the SAS Survival Guide, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, How to Survive on Land and Sea, The Survival Handbook... and dozens of books with luscious photographs of polar bears and arctic foxes and caribou and beluga whales.

I am not a good traveler in real life. I like to be home, and I am not very brave. But while I was researching ICE, I was able to dream that I was in this world of ice deserts and rippling auroras and sights so incredible that they are real-life magic. (Sarah's blog. Actually a fantastic post here of the layers to her book)

You really do get a feel for being in the Arctic, how beautiful and scary it would be. Like in a desert there are long stretches of nothingness, swirling snow and miles of ice. Cassie is an Arctic researcher, or wishes to be one, living with her father and a few students at a research station tracking polar bears. When the book opens, Cassie is trailing the biggest polar bear she's ever seen and thinking about the fairy tale her Gram has told her since she was a little girl. Ice is parts East of the Sun, West of the Moon, parts Beauty and the Beast, and there's even a hint of the Psyche and Cupid myth. Cassie's particular fairy tale is about her mother, adopted daughter of the North Wind, and how she is cast away by her dad and captured by trolls. She had fallen in love with a human man and promised the Polar Bear King that he could marry their daughter if he kept them safe from the North Wind. What Cassie takes from this story, though, is that her mother is still alive, living with trolls, not dead soon after she was born.

So there's a bit of "if my mom hadn't died, would I feel more love in my life now?" thing going on in the book, a hole to be filled by the right person. And the story IS about this love, this healing. More so than I thought at first. When I think of a girl and her polar bear I think of Lyra and her connection to Iorek, who is more of a protector. So I was a little surprised when Bear began to take on a human shape at night, and Cassie begins to have "certain feelings" about him. Although, he can only stay if Cassie keeps the lights out, so you never know what he looks like. This particular twist is actually in the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale; because I mean, a love story between a girl and her bear is gross otherwise.

I liked the character of Bear. He speaks and acts like a human as much as he still resembles a polar bear. I think I remember that he was orignally a human but accepted his polar fate because of a passion to work as a soul guide. There is a whole system of magic/myth in Ice which is described and worked into the plot. It is more like magic realism, but heavy on the magic. It has its roots in a living mythology.

But Bear reminded me of Po from Graceling. He's strong and gentle, patient and understanding. Although I had a negative reaction to his "betrayal" of Cassie. There's this whole part where Bear acts in a damaging way, I feel, to Cassie. It's understood that he was being "helpful" or didn't realize what he was doing, but it made me really dislike him. Cassie eventually comes around to the situation afterwards, and it fits within the whole fairy tale endoskeleton in Ice, but in terms of Cassie's rights as a female and as a human, and considering her age (newly 18), I kind of reeled. But Cassie is the type of woman who steps and at times hurls herself into anything that frightens her. She is the type of amazon who is afraid, cuz why wouldn't you be?, but does what needs to be done despite it all. She moves through the changes in her story with bravery and a fiery resolve. Things happen but she doesn't linger in confusion and fear, she moves directly through and out of it all.

And I love this by Sarah, "Writing this book was a labor of love. I love polar bears. I love fairy tales. And I love fearless girls who cannot be stopped. But most of all, I wrote this book as a love letter to my husband. Beyond the ice and the bears and the everything, ICE is about true love, the kind of love where you face the world as a team... the kind where you'd go east of the sun and west of the moon for each other"


(Mandy) *What do you think of the system of magic used in Ice?*

(Kiirstin) I really liked it. I thought the idea of the munasqri was really cool,
and I loved that it nestled right into the world we know. Setting a
fairytale like East of the Sun or Beauty and the Beast into a
contemporary, "realistic" setting is a huge challenge, especially
without sounding hokey or really, really stretching credibility. Or
sometimes the magic world is completely divorced, separate from the
real world. But the magic of the munasqri seems very natural and
organic, an extension of the world we know -- almost real enough to
believe. In addition, I thought the way the science and magic was
melded by Cassie so she could help Bear was just excellent.

(Mandy) *Do you like Cassie as a character? Do you like her with Bear?*

(Kiirstin) I'm pretty conflicted about Cassie. I want to like her, but I had a
very hard time connecting with her, and a lot of the time when I did
it was to be frustrated with her. She's headstrong and brave, both of
which I think can be great characteristics -- but she can also be
extremely thoughtless about how her actions are going to affect
others. Her impulsiveness leads to a lot of conflict, including one of
the major conflicts, the impetus for her journey. And after that she
kept blaming Bear, which really got on my nerves because while he
certainly played a role, she was the one who takes the disastrous
action and I wanted her to take responsibility for it. On the other
hand, every time I look at a decision she makes that makes me want to
yell at her, I can totally see where she was coming from and why.

As for her with Bear, I thought they made a great team,
intellectually; but again, I found Bear especially to be remote and
slippery as a character. I kind of wish we could have seen a few more
episodes of him thinking more like a bear than a human because I think
then I would have been able to buy his Incident Decision much more
easily. Despite the fact that Cassie clearly would do anything to save
Bear, and Bear would give Cassie anything, there was a major breakdown
of trust between them that I would have liked to see resolved beyond
Cassie's heroic measures to save him. I wasn't entirely convinced at
the end of the book that the major problem I saw in their relationship
was actually resolved.

Goodness, I'm hardly a romantic, am I? That all sounds very stodgy.

I'm curious to hear a little more about what you think about this question, too. *response over on K's blog!*

(Mandy) *What about the mom's story in Ice, what did you think of her role?*

(Kiirstin) I kind of wish we'd seen more of her, to be honest. When we meet her
finally, she wasn't what I expected at all, and she was also clearly
not what Cassie expected, either. I liked that, since I thought it
added an interesting dimension to the story. When it comes down to it,
though, I'm not sure that dimension was as thoroughly explored as I
might have liked. Of all the secondary characters, she seemed the
least developed to me, and yet she was extremely pivotal in a couple
of cases. I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.

I really enjoyed jointly reviewing Ice with you, Kiirstin. There is something to be said for the book club scenario where you know someone out there is reading the same book as you, roughly at the same time, followed by discussion. It was neat to see how we both responded to the beauty of the Arctic world in Ice; creatures and amazing landscape. This aspect came across very well in the story. It was neat, too, to see what our responses would be to a character like Cassie. Especially considering how she handles Bear's "betrayal". It's also awesome that you agreed with Father Forest--I love it! He was such a smothering and scary character for me; just deciding what is right for another person and closing them in with it. His motivations were understandable, completely, he was just nuts.

Conclusion: I would make a bad fairytale hero because I would probably get myself killed; my prime motivator for action fueled by the resolve "don't tell me what to do!" *in a whiny voice*

Mandy and Kiirstin


Unknown said...

*does a happy awesome secret handshake dance*

Also: in person? What is this world outside of the internet you speak of? :P

Stormi said...

I gave you a award!

Tales of Whimsy said...

Sounds awesome. I love books that transport me and the Artic has always fascinated me.

I love to read stories about when people moved in to the Yukon during the gold rush.

Katie said...

I really want to start up a book club on Google Wave. (Don't know if you've seen it yet, but it's mash-up message board-email-instant message combination tool, with more... It's neat. And hard to explain.)

But this was super awesome to read!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I'm convinced - now I have to read it! ;-)

Cecelia said...

This is a great idea - I'm glad you guys followed through. :) And I'm going to write the same thing I did over at Kiirsten's blog: I'm afraid to read your whole post because of my irrational fear of spoilers. I'll be back to comment once I've read the book for myself, of course. Yay, fairy tales!

Phyl said...

What a great idea this was! I enjoyed the reviews as well as the conversation. Great job! There should be more of this.


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