skygiants: Hazel, from the cover of Breadcrumbs, about to venture into the Snow Queen's forest (into the woods)
[personal profile] skygiants
T. Kingfisher's The Raven and the Reindeer is an enjoyable Snow Queen variant that stakes out its territory with a few clear thematic changes:

- Kai was always kind of a jerk
- Gerta is projecting feelings onto Kay that neither of them really have
- Gerta's journey of discovery and self-knowledge is largely about getting over Kay and finding true love with the robber girl

The book commits hard to these things, as well as to the talking raven, and the creepy reindeer magic, and the Finnish-Sami setting. It's a well-written quest story and I had fun reading it, but as soon as I finished it I was struck with an irresistible urge to go to my bookshelf and reread Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, which remains my all-time favorite Snow Queen retelling.

The books are doing extremely different things, so it's not really fair to compare them. The Raven and the Reindeer is a quest fantasy coming-of-age story, written for teens and adults. Breadcrumbs is a battle to the death against loneliness and depression as filtered through the iconography of fairy tales, written for eleven-year-olds. The Raven and the Reindeer is Robin McKinley; Breadcrumbs is middle-grade Utena.

Also, Breadcrumbs is not gay. Nor is it straight! Because everyone's eleven.

Now, having just said that it's unfair to compare them, I'm going to compare them anyways: having read Breadcrumbs first and coming to The Raven and the Reindeer after was probably the wrong order to get the most satisfying Raven and the Reindeer experience.

Breadcrumbs is built around the relationship between Hazel and Jack. They have been best friends. They have meant something important to each other. That's real. They may well grow away and apart from each other, they may well have done so already; that's real too. Jack gives Hazel the most important thing he has when she needs it, and Hazel gives it back to him when he needs it, and it saves him -- but then it's lost to both of them. Saving Jack very probably doesn't mean saving Jack-and-Hazel, and it certainly doesn't mean saving Jack for Hazel. It just means saving Jack. And sometimes that's got to be enough.

The Raven and the Reindeer is not at all interested in Kay: he's an excuse for Gerta to have an adventure and prove something about herself, but in and of himself he's unworthy and uninteresting, and Gerta's journey is in large part about growing out of him. This is a perfectly reasonable way to interrogate the fairy-tale rescue story, but after Breadcrumbs, making Kay such an easily-shed MacGuffin felt a bit to me like taking the easy way out. Breadcrumbs is digging deeper into more uncomfortable truths, and the quest means something much more to me as a result.

(ALSO Jaina/Gerta is certainly cute and I'm all for it, but also all seemed to happen very fast? Like, makeouts within 24 hours of Gerta's initial kidnapping by robbers may have been necessary for Gerta's lesbian awakening but dang, Jaina, maybe slow your roll a little with your bewildered prisoner? Maybe wait until after three or four whole conversations, rather than two?

The emotionally fraught reindeerified throat-cutting was some good stuff, though.)

As a sidenote, I don't think I've ever actually read the whole original of Anderson's Snow Queen, but from similarities among all Snow Queen variants I have now collected the following important facts about the Snow Queen:
- snow is made of bees
- having a frozen heart makes you very good at math
- flowers are more helpful than almost any human being
- the best thing to do with a kidnapped child is make them do ice puzzles for you
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