Jun 4, 2008

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

The Ice Queen begins when its unnamed protagonist is a little girl. Upset because her mother is leaving her at home with her brother while she goes out to celebrate her 30th birthday among friends, she makes a wish: that she never comes back. Because of this wish, she blames herself for the accident that takes her mother’s life. She and her brother are raised by their grandmother, and she grows up and becomes a librarian. Her existence resembles Kay’s in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”: Cold, still, and devoid of feelings.

After their grandmother’s death, her brother convinces her to move to Florida, where he lives with his wife. It is there that, after another reckless wish, the unnamed protagonist is hit by lightening. She survives, and meets other survivors, including Lazarus Jones, a man who is said to have returned to life after being dead for forty minutes. She finds herself drawn to Lazarus, and begins to experience emotions she never thought she could feel again.

What first drew me to this beautiful and atmospheric tale was its mood of subtle eeriness; the same sort of mood I wrote about sort of recently in my post about Jonathan Carroll’s Voice of Our Shadow. I suppose that The Ice Queen could be called a realistic story, but from the very start there are signs that fairy tale logic is at work. There are several fairy tale elements in the story – more noticeably, from “The Snow Queen” and from the myth/fairy tale “Eros and Psyche”. There are also references to several other fairy tales, including “Godfather Death” and “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”. And there are several passages that reveal that our heroine is someone who is very familiar with fairy tales. This was something that immediately made me feel at home in this book:
You had to do the thing you were most afraid of, didn’t you? In every fairy tale the right way was the difficult path, the one that led over bounders, through brambles, across a field of fire.

But the logic of fairy tales was that there was no logic: bad things happen to the innocent, children were set out in the woods by their parents, fear walked hand in hand with experience, a wish spoken aloud could make it so.
Plus there are some comparisons between the Grimms’ and Andersen’s fairy tales that made me smile (I am a Grimms’ girl at heart, but Andersen, despite some elements of what could be called righteousness, always did have a strong grip on my imagination):
It was a Thursday afternoon, and as I worked I couldn’t help but overhear the preschool reading group. Frances was reading Andersen’s “Everything in Its Right Place”, in which the pious heroine is nothing like the Goose Girl in the Grimm’s tale. There were no heads nailed to the wall in this story. No cases of mistaken identity that weren’t easily rectified. A few mothers eyed me. I supposed there might be toddlers who continued to have nightmares from my time in control of story hour. No wonder their mothers wanted me kept at a distance. If I spoke, anything at all might drop from my lips: blood, frogs, death wishes, desire.
A little over halfway through the book there is a shift in the story, and this strange and sensual tale becomes an immensely sad and touching one. The shift is not abrupt, though. It fits the story perfectly. And the ending was just beautiful and it increased my appreciation for this book more than I thought possible.

This was my first experience with Alice Hoffman, and I definitely want to read more of her work. I know there are some fans of hers out there – which book do you recommend that I pick up next?

Other Blog Reviews:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Out of the Blue
The Gaol House Blog
A Bookaholic's Review
The Bookworm
Blue Archipelago
Trish's Reading Nook
Life and Times of a 'New' New Yorker
A Fondness for Reading


  1. I've never read any of her work before, so I can be of no help. I did pick up a couple of hers at our last library sale, and after reading your review, I'm really anxious to dive into them. But what I really want is to pick up this one!

  2. I had started to listen to this one in audiobook form but couldn't finish it; maybe I should give it a go again!

    As for Aice Hoffman, I've just reviewed her short novel "Green Angel", which you might like because it's a bit like a fairy tale, too.

  3. I have her "Here on Earth" laying around the house, but it is still to be read. I like the sound of this one you reviewed though. I do like books with fairy tale elements or background, etc. Your review made me want to go get this one too!

    I went and got both Grimms and Andersons fairy tales about a year ago. I was reading some Shannon Hale books and wanted to read the original tale. I've enjoyed picking either one of these collections up once in awhile and reading.

    I finished reading Rusalka and am thinking about what I want to say. I'm hoping to have it written by sometime Saturday.

  4. Hello Nymeth! I'm glad you liked this one. This is also my first Alice Hoffman book (something I read last year and never got around to reviewing much later on) and it made me want to read her other stories.

    Here's a very short take on the three other books of hers that I've read: Practical Magic is a lovely, magical tale also but none of the fairy tale elements of this one. Here on Earth is a modern day retelling of Wuthering Heights. While Angel Landing is simply a love story for adults.

  5. I've never read her books before, so I'm not able to recommend any but this book sounds like something I'd like to read. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth!

  6. I've never read her before but I do have Practical Magic in my TBR pile... if ever I get to it heh. The one you read sounds really good!

  7. While I've seen the films Practical Magic and Aquamarine and I've got the novels "Incantation" and "Here on Earth" in my TBR pile, the only one of Hoffman's books that I've read (so far!) is "Second Nature" and I loved it - I think it would be perfect for you - it's basically an updated Beauty and the Beast story.

  8. I've only read Blue Diary by Alice Hoffmann, which I really enjoyed and recommend. I've meant to read more by her, so The Ice Queen may be the place to start.

  9. Oh, I'm glad to read a positive review of this book! I have it sitting on my shelf, and I've been ignoring it for unknown reasons, but you've renewed my interest. The only other Hoffman I've read is Here on Earth. I liked it OK, but it was written in present tense--a little bit of a turn off to me. It is a modern take of Wuthering Heights. I saw the movie Practical Magic and really liked it.

  10. I personally am a huge fan of "Here on Earth". I also read one by her about a girl with a disease, I think it's HIV, but I can't remember the title of that one... it was pretty good too.

  11. The only thing I've read by her is a book with two of her novellas -- Aquamarine and Indigo: Water Tales. I loved the title, and enjoyed both stories.

  12. Un oh, be careful what you wish for! Sounds like a great book! I think I will add this one to my wishlist!

  13. Still in awe of your reading superpower. :)

    I like the idea behind this story - drawing the arc of the story through fairy tale.

    This is what I love about myths and fairy tales. That they become so etched into our consciousness that we begin to retell the stories in our own way, so that the new stories are a part of us, and a part of the original.

    I didn't know Alice Hoffman wrote a story like this. I wonder if the rest of her stories share similar style of storytelling.

    Thank you for this review.

  14. I've been meaning to comment on this post for a couple of days now. This book sounds so incredible! I can't wait to read it. Sounds like one of those treasures of a book. I'll pick it up next time I go to the bookstore.

  15. Welcome to the Read-a-thon cheerleaders! I have been charged with orginizing us. I have set up a blog for the task at www.readCheer.blogspot.com

    Also I have set up a meme to help get the word out about the Read-a-thon at http://readingderby.blogspot.com/2008/06/read-thon-meme.html and have tagged you. :) Can't wait to see your answers!

  16. Debi: I hope you enjoy the books and I look forward to your reviews!

    Alessandra: Do give it another go, sometimes it's just a matter of timing. Green Angel sounds excellent! And it sounds like she uses fairy tale themes quite often.

    Terri B: I've been making my way through the Complete Grimms, but I've yet to pick up a complete edition of Andersen's fairy tales. I need to one of these days. I look forward to reading your thoughts on Rusalka!

    Lightheaded: Pratical Magical sounds excellent! Wuthering Heights...I have to say that I didn't really enjoy that one, so I wonder if I'd like a retelling. But then again, that was 10 years ago, who knows how I'd feel now :P

    Melody: I do think you'd like this one!

    Deslily: I look forward to your review of Pratical Magic, if and when you get to it :P

    Ken: An updated Beauty and the Beast! I am so sold.

    Sarah: I've heard great things about Blue Diary! I hope you enjoy The Ice Queen :)

    Trish: I hope you enjoy this one! I can see how the present tense thing would be weird. I've heard great things about Practical Magic, both the movie and the book, but I've never watched it.

    Heatherlo: It seems to be hard to go wrong with her! Here on Earth sounds interesting - I wonder if I should re-read Wuthering Heights before picking it up.

    Robin: Oooh, I remember that Darla reviewed that one a while ago, and it does sound very good!

    Jaimie: Yup, be careful what you wish for! I hope you enjoy this one :)

    Dark Orpheus, you're welcome. I completely agree with you - I love myths and fairy tales for that reason too. And you put it so beautifully - "we begin to retell the stories in our own way, so that the new stories are a part of us, and a part of the original."

    Chris, it was incredible! I hope you think so too when you get to it :P

    Darcie: Thanks for welcoming me :) Wow, a Cheerleaders blog - you're organizing everything so well! I will do the meme tomorrow.

  17. I read Green Angel years ago and absolutely loved it. I then bought Rhinoa a copy of the Ice Queen but somehow never got round to buying it myself. I rectified this about two weeks ago when I found myself in the Piccadilly Waterstones (sigh..) and felt like reading another Hoffman. This was the one that again stood out to me, and I meant to bring it with me on this trip, but it would probably have been finished in a day and I wanted meatier fayre! Glad you enjoyed it, and I'm now looking forward to it even more.

  18. Marie: Ahh, Picadilly Waterstone's...sigh indeed. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

  19. Practical Magic!! I love that book, one of my all time favorites. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

  20. I really enjoyed this as well (thanks Mariel!) and have a couple of her others to read. I am looking forward to Practical Magic which is apparently quite different from the film as well as Green Angel. I hope you enjoy whichever one by her you read next :)

  21. I've only read The Foretelling by her but it was enough to make me want to read more of her books! It's a YA, short and beautifully written, I think you'd like it!

  22. Rhinoa: Yes, both Pratical Magical and Green Angel sound great!

    Valentina: The Foretelling...one more for the list!

  23. You know, I listened to this last year and really disliked it. Seeing that Alessandra also had a lukewarm experience with the audiobook makes me wonder if it was just the format that was wrong... I read Incantation last fall and thought it was fantastic, so maybe I'll give this one another shot one day.

  24. I finished this book at last!
    My review is here, if you care to add it to your post.

  25. Somer: Maybe that was it...do give it another try :)

    Alessandra: yay, I'm so glad you liked it this time!

  26. I think I may have found a new favourite author!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.