Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

November, 1920.

Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead ‘at the world’s edge’ in the raw Alaskan wilderness.  But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before.

The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes.  In a moment of tenderness, the two are surprised to find themselves building a snowman – or rather a snow girl – together.  The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can’t quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure – a child? – running through the spruce trees in the dawn light.  And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property?

Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairytale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic – the story of a couple who take a child into their hearts, all the while knowing they can never truly call her their own.

I have always enjoyed magic realism and fairytale stories, but I wasn’t expecting to be as immersed in this story as I became.  The journey into Frontier America was magical in itself, with beautiful descriptions of landscape, wildlife and the hardships faced by those brave souls who chose to live there.  To combine this with the tradition Russian story of a snow girl who can only remain until the Spring thaw was inspired.

I found the characters Jack and Mabel really engaging – Ivey has done a brilliant job creating these intricate, loving personalities, with their bittersweet past.  I also loved their neighbours – loud, brash but incredibly kind and generous, embodying everything about the pioneer spirit.  I especially enjoyed the fragile love story that develops in the last third of the book between the snow girl Faina and the boy Garrett; once I understood the fairytale, I thought I’d worked out the only possible way the story could end for Jack and Mabel, but this twist kept me hooked right up to the bitter end.

I’d highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys Americana, magic realism or just a family drama and a good adventure.  Get the hardback if you can – the cover is delightful.

The Snow Child is published by Headline

Kate Neilan @magic_kitten

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