When I saw this story was based on the fairy tale ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, I had to read it. I love fairy tale retellings, but particularly the less popular ones like this one that are blended with northern mythology. This was a favorite growing up and I was curious to see it as a Fantasy Romance. The retelling was excellently done with the heart of the story right there through the whole thing.
Bjorn was cursed on his father’s deathbed by his wicked step-mother into bear form and told that he would be given to the troll queen, his step-mother’s daughter for marriage or she would plunge the kingdom into war and death would be the result. Bjorn bargained instead. He had one year to find a certain girl and get her to marry him instead. The evil queen counter-bargained that he would also have to get her to stay with him in his bear form for one whole year and she was not to know the details of the bargain. She added that she would allow Bjorn to take his human form at night, but the girl could never look upon his human face.
Astrid is the youngest daughter of a poor woodcutter who treats her miserably and looks on her as different from his other children. She dreams of a new life. And then the bear comes and demands her to be with him and in exchange he will give her family two sacks of gold. Astrid is grieved to see half her family willing to turn her over to an enchanted bear who may very well do wicked things to her all for wealth. Her mother and one brother beg her not to go, but her father and another brother show their greed when they angrily push her to go. Astrid is scared, but she is angry too. She will go on her own terms.
Bjorn discovered that though he found the adult Astrid against all odds that she is nothing like he imagined. She is willful and inquisitive. She is not satisfied with his rules and non-answers. She is also more than he dreamed of and he dreams of the day the curse is ended and he fulfilled his side of the bargain so that he can oversee his kingdom with Astrid at his side.
Norga, the troll queen, does not leave anything to chance and Bjorn and Astrid are in constant danger. One day a tree sprite attacks Bjorn and leaves him near death. Astrid both takes the opportunity to tend to him and to finally look upon his human face. Her actions break the bargain and she is faced with the guilt of what she has done although it is unwittingly. Bjorn is taken from her to Norga’s unfindable castle that is hidden East of the Sun and West of the Moon to wed her daughter so that the trolls will gain Bjorn’s kingdom and his powers. At this low point, Astrid must learn to come into her own if she is to save Bjorn and have a chance of happiness with him.
The plot on this one was engaging from the first words on the page. It was exciting adventure, mystical, romantic, and bittersweet at times. It had all the components of a good fairytale, but also the heat in the romance that makes it something for the adult kiddies. Not that it gets very graphic or descriptive during sexy times or gives the priority to the developing the romance. Astrid’s is really the only character that gets a deeper degree of development. Both Bjorn and Astrid are the narrators, but this is really Astrid’s story. She must come into who she really is and she must face the tests that make her strong enough to get to Bjorn. That being said, Bjorn is a true hero. He plays his part as a fighter and as a lover. He has to learn to respect Astrid as an equal and later as a man strong enough to partner with a strong woman. Loved them both and loved this story through and through.
I can recommend this to fantasy romance lovers, lovers of fairy tale retellings or just those who love a good odyssey-style romance at a New Adult level.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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