Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
It’s a little cheesy, but a pretty painting, and it hints at the story. The Tamora Pierce endorsement doesn’t hurt, either!
When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.
Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.
That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.
No, it’s a complete standalone.
Things were going well, till I was like, “excuse me?”, and then I hated it.
Fairy Tale/Myth retelling! Durst used the basic tale type of Beauty & the Beast, and there is a strong Cupid & Psyche theme as well. I love Cupid & Psyche, probably in large part due to the fantastic Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.
Arctic Science! Most of it is merely touched on, but the magical/scientific reason for the dwindling polar bear population was inventive, and written in an affecting way, so that those readers who didn’t care before, might.
Magical Pregnancy. I can’t really discuss this without spoilers, but I’ll save them for:
So, for most of the book, I thought, “a cool mythology I’ve never seen, a retelling of Beauty & the Beast, I’m happy.” Then came the pregnancy. (Highlight for spoilers.) Cassie is taking birth control, but Bear magically alters her “chemical imbalance” so that she can become pregnant, because he doesn’t understand that this is not a thing she wants. Since Bear is kidnapped shortly after, she doesn’t have time to think about it, but immediately goes after him. On her way, she is told many times that she must have the baby, because otherwise all polar bears are doomed (it kind of makes sense within the story’s mythology). One magical entity actually keeps her captive and ties her up so that she can’t look for Bear, because of the hypothetical danger to the baby. After all of these (mostly male) entities force her to carry the baby nearly to term, she realizes that because she loves Bear, she must love the baby she’s been forced to conceive and carry. This is just uncool in so many ways. Forced pregnancy is never romantic, kids. So, needless to say, I ended the book liking it much less than when I started it.