What by Who: East by Edith Pattou
The story opens with the tale of Rose's birth and an explanation of the superstition of birth directions. Rose, accidentally a north-born despite her mother's wishes, is adventurous and only sits still to practice her weaving. But there is less and less time to pursue her favored art as the family farm fails and her older sister falls ill. One night the family is visited by a white bear who promises both riches and her sister's health in return for Rose. And so our heroine starts off on a journey that will take her further than she expects.
The book follows the myth very closely at the start, but the ending is wonderfully reinvented in a way that makes Rose into a very strong character. The imagery in the words is beautiful, and the voices of the alternating narrators are well crafted and even the smaller characters have personality that makes them memorable enough to be revisited at the end.
But perhaps what I love best about the tale is the romance. Unlike many stories, the romance isn't about heated glances and things done to win the prince or princess over. There is no handsome face that makes the girl's heart flutter and gaze woefully at her own plain, reader-connectible, appearance. Instead the girl and the white bear grow a friendship and a comfort between themselves and the relationship starts simply as trust. Even when she undertakes her great quest to get her prince, Rose is unaware of what those feelings have become and strives only to free him and to make right the mistake she has made. I find that I really appreciate this gradual, awkward and almost accidental love story. It's refreshing. The author isn't trying to put a character in as a place holder so that readers can envision themselves with the handsome male lead of the day. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be Rose for all her pretty silver, gold and moon colored dresses. I'm far too content to admire her bravery while snuggled under my warm blanket. But that doesn't mean I'm not thoroughly in love with her story.
If you are a fan of epic journeys, polar bears, characters with strong senses of honor and subtle but sweet romances, then this is certainly a book I'd recommend picking up.