The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Alaska, 1920. On the frontier, Jack and Mabel started a new life, but after a couple years of attempting to live off the land, they have not gotten far. Isolated from the outside world and a quiet couple as is, Mabel finds her days lonely and Jack, ever aging, is finding the land more and more difficult to work. The harsh winters and even harsher landscape make living a chore and the wilderness bites at them. One night, on a whim, the couple builds a snow child with Mabel’s scarf and gloves. The next day, the snow child is destroyed, but wandering around the woods is a beautiful little girl with pale skin, hair as white as snow, and icy blue eyes and she is wearing Mabel’s scarf and gloves. Mabel and Jack slowly form a relationship with this young girl and build on it throughout the years until they think of her as their own child. Intertwined in a story of heartache and wonder is a beautiful tale about a mysterious child and the couple who love her.
This is a wonderful retelling of an old Russian folktale that is rich in atmospheric detail and runs beneath the surface. Here is an adult folktale come to life and Ivey does a beautiful job of showing the reader what frontier Alaska is like on a daily basis and how this couple came to be there, stay there, and eventually call it their home. Although the novel is a bit slow, especially at first, it is worth a read. This is a story that will stick with you. It’s beautiful and I can still see Jack and Mabel’s home and the wilderness in my mind’s eye even though I read it months ago.
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My favorite read of 2012 was Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. As a child, Finnikin was one of the few people who survived when his homeland, Lumatere, was sundered from the rest of the world and the royal family murdered. Now, Finnikin must help the rest of the Lumaterian exiles survive without a homeland. He comes across secretive Evanjalin, who says that, with his help, she can pierce the barrier separating what is left of Lumatere from the rest of the world and avenge the royal family.
While this has a horrible title, it is a thoroughly enjoyable book. The characters are believable and you fall in love with them, feel their pain, understand their flaws, and struggle with them on their journey. Finnikin of the Rock is a great example of epic fantasy and there are scenes that stay with you long after you have finished the book.
The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf
The story of the sinking of the Titanic has been told and retold so many times over the years that one might think it would get old. One would be wrong, of course. The Watch that Ends the Night is a thoroughly original telling of a well-known story. Yes, you know the ship will sink, but the beauty of the story is in how it is told. Wolf illuminates the story in a new way. Multiple characters’ viewpoints are shared with the reader, including Molly Brown, John Jacob Astor, E.J. Smith (the Captain), the Postman, and many many others. Each is told in poetry, although not always rhyming, traditional poetry. For children of the DiCaprio Titanic, the characters bring to life parts previously unseen, like the men working in the telegram room, and third class teenage love.
I am not much of a poetry reader, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the story was told through this medium. Some information was new to me, and I enjoyed that Wolf included an index at the end of the book with information about all of the people mentioned, including whether they were real or fictional, and what happened to them after the Titanic. This was my favorite book of 2012 because, even though I knew how it ended, I couldn't put it down.