Monday, January 18, 2010

Review of The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge won the Hugo Award in 1981 and was also nominated for a Nebula Award. This science fiction novel was followed by a novella, World's End, which is the story of what happened to BZ Gundhalinu after the first novel ended. The Summer Queen is the direct sequel to The Snow Queen and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1992. The most recent novel set in this universe, Tangled Up In Blue, is a stand-alone about BZ Gundhalinu that takes place during the earlier part of The Snow Queen. Unfortunately, The Snow Queen and World's End are both out of print now.

The story of The Snow Queen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale sharing the same title. The planet Tiamat is divided into two peoples, the Winters and the Summers. For about 150 years, the Stargate to other worlds remains open and during this time Tiamat is ruled by a Winter Queen. Once the gate closes and the foreigners leave, the Winter Queen is removed in favor of a Summer Queen. The Winters enjoy the technological benefits of the offworlders who visit during their time in power, but the Summers are a more spiritual people who do not share the Winters' interest in technology and are considered to be a rather primitive people by the Winters.

The reign of the Winter Queen, Arienrhod, is drawing to an end after 150 years during which she has been kept young by the "water of life." Reluctant to lose her important position, Arienrhod secretly had several clones created and raised as Summers in the hopes that one will survive and succeed her as queen. Only one of these doubles grows up to be a possibility for Arienrhod's successor, Moon Dawntreader Summer.

Moon and her cousin Sparks grew up together - and grew to love each other. Ever since they were young, Moon and Sparks have dreamed of becoming sybils, whom the Summers respect for their ability to enter into a trance and answer questions posed to them truly. While Moon passes the test, Sparks does not which causes a rift between them, particularly as it is known that to love a sybil is death. Sparks leaves for the Winter town of Carbuncle where Arienrhod rules, and once the queen hears that her clone's cousin is there, she uses him to draw Moon near. Yet her plan goes awry and Moon ends up leaving the world behind - and leaving both Arienrhod and Sparks to turn to each other while mourning her loss. However, Moon learns some important truths offworld and feels it is her destiny to return to Tiamat.

The Snow Queen was not only my favorite book read in 2009 but is now one of my absolute favorite books I have ever read. It was a little slow at times, especially toward the beginning, but the way it all came together later made me feel even the slower parts added a lot. The world of Tiamat and the characters were both fascinating, and some of the scenes toward the end were so bittersweet and haunting that they will be sticking with me for a long time to come.

This is a difficult book for me to talk about without spoilers since the second half is where it began taking off and tying everything together so nicely. There's not anything I can think of that I didn't like about it since even the parts that seemed to drag a little when I first read them seemed important to me later - I don't think it would have been the same without them. I loved the writing, the characters, the story, the romance and the social structure of the planet Tiamat.

If there was one flaw I saw, it may be that Moon seemed too perfect - everyone seemed to love her, she showed kindness to those she had every reason to hate, she was beautiful, she never stopped caring for Sparks even when he could be a bit of a jerk, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a sybil and she attained special knowledge. None of this mattered to me, though, and I even thought it worked with her character when it came to seeing how she was so similar yet so different from Arienrhod. They both had some shared traits but Moon was so innocent while the older queen was manipulative. It made me wonder if young Arienrhod was more like Moon and what that means for Moon's future.

Other than Moon, there were other characters who had their time in the limelight and I enjoyed reading about every single one of them. At first, I found myself wanting to just read about Moon or Arienrhod and wondered why there was time spent with some of the other characters, but by the end I found I couldn't imagine the book without each and every one of them as all of their stories affected me.

Tiamat itself was such a wonderful place to visit and was very well-developed without being full of dull descriptions. I really enjoyed reading about the divide between the Summers and Winters, the sybils and how they were viewed by the two different peoples and the discovery of what sybils were as well as the revelation about the source of the water of life.

The Snow Queen is a wonderful science fiction book with a well-realized setting and culture, great characters I came to really sympathize with, lovely writing and some memorable scenes. It's one of those rare books that I just love and wouldn't change in the least. I'm very much looking forward to reading The Summer Queen and more by Joan D. Vinge.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: My husband gave me a signed copy for Christmas.


orannia said...

Oh, sounds like a very...well balanced book, and an amazing read!

And this might be a bit cheeky (so apologies in advance), but I'm guessing your husband buying you a signed copy makes him the best husband ever? (Not that I'm saying he wasn't before of course :) is he going to top such a present?

Anonymous said...

Okay, I definitely need to add this to my list. Thanks for the review. I've loved the few Hugo award winners I've read and have been planning on reading more.

Kristen said...

Orannia - Well-balanced is a great way of describing it. It just had so much that I loved.

Hmm, not sure how my husband will top that gift. But I guess I'll have to keep him for getting me that one. ;)

Carolsnotebook - Hope you enjoy The Snow Queen too. Which of the Hugo winners did you like?

Kerry said...

I've read this book several times and love it. I've also read World's End a couple of times but somehow I've never finished The Summer Queen. One of my goals for 2010 is to try to read it this year.

Kristen said...

Kerry - How was World's End? Since it was hard to find, I just skipped it and got The Summer Queen.

Kerry said...

I actually liked it a lot. Two particularly important things happen in it. One of them is absolutely required for the action in The Summer Queen to occur. I think though that the most important thing is explained so that you can get away with not reading World's End. The other I assume comes up naturally in Summer Queen. If you find you need to know, it's probably online somewhere, or otherwise drop me an email.

Kristen said...

Kerry - Thank you very much! If I get confused and can't find any spoiler-filled information on what happened, I'll be sure to ask you about it. It's too bad that one is out of print; I really liked BZ. I am going to have to get Tangled Up in Blue sometime after finishing The Summer Queen, though.

Kristen said...

Actually there won't be a need for me to find out what happened secondhand - I just hunted down and ordered a copy of World's End.

Kerry said...

Hooray and well done. Spoilery descriptions are all well and good when necessary, but going to the original if possible is usually good. I'll be interested to see what you think of World's End.

Kristen said...

Kerry - Yes, definitely, the original is always better and I'm curious about these occurrences that were necessary. You convinced me I should try to find a copy - I'm so easily swayed when it comes to purchasing books. ;) It actually wasn't that hard to find - I'm just picky about buying books that aren't new even if it says they're like new.

Anastasia said...

I read the author explain that World's End is more or less incorporated in Summer Queen - I was able to read the latter without feeling like I missed anything.

I'm re-reading All the Windwracked Stars right now - by sheer accident. Meant to start By the Mountain Bound, but since they look so similar and stand next to each other, I took Stars. Opened it in the middle, and was totally drawn in. I don't think I appreciated this book sufficiently on the first read.

Kerry said...

I can understand that. I won't show you my horrible old copies of Snow Queen and World's End then. They are from my "everything from the second hand book shop" student days. I kept thinking I would replace them one day, but never actually did it. It's probably too late now. At least my Summer Queen is a nice copy that was new when I bought it.

Yes, there are two very important plot points to World's End that totally affect (or is that effect, I'm never sure) what happens afterwards. How about we talk about it after you've read it?

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Oh well, I may as well read them both. World's End is a short book anyway and I got a nice collector's edition for fairly cheap.

The two Edda of Burdens books do look rather similar. When reading them both for the first time, I thought they seemed like books that would hold up very well on a reread. I'm curious about what you'll think of By the Mountain Bound - I loved it even more than the first book.

Kerry - My copy of The Snow Queen isn't new either. Lately I have gotten a few used books as gifts. I'll just about never buy them myself, but I don't mind it when other people get them for me for some reason, especially if they're books I know I'll never get to read if I don't get a used copy.

Sure, I would love to discuss World's End with you after I read it. I just got an email saying that it shipped today! :)

Anastasia said...

I just finished By the Mountain Bound, it's so good. It's full of angsty gay love, my favorite, wrapped in gorgeous prose. There were some lines I wanted to get out my pen and underline. It's probably a better place to start reading than All the Windracked Stars. Muire was much more likeable, and Mingan and Stribjorn were great. But what happened to Heythe? I guess Mingan killed her? It wasn't really resolved. So great though.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Glad you enjoyed By the Mountain Bound. As much as I liked All the Wind-wracked Stars, I thought this one was better. It did have gorgeous prose and I really liked seeing more of Mingan.

I'm torn on whether or not publication order or chronological order is better for reading the two, though. This one is the stronger of the two books (in my opinion anyway) and the first book makes more sense after reading this one. I found I liked not knowing all the details and then finding out more afterward, though, plus I felt it made them even more re-readable.

Charlotte said...

I have been vaugly meaning to read this for the past 20 years---thanks for the push to actually do so!