Summary: Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.
As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine.
I expected a lot more from East.* People gush about this book, but I don’t share their enthusiasm. It’s very long but nothing seems to happen. It’s a retelling of a fairytale that feels about as substantial than the original.
I honestly do not understand why Pattou chose to have five narrators (just because it worked in The Poisonwood Bible, Pattou’s inspiration for her multiple narrators, doesn’t mean it worked here). I only cared about Rose’s chapters. They were the longest and contained the most story. There were a few times reading Rose’s chapters when I would got lost in the story, but then Pattou would pull me out of the moment and shove me into another character’s head.
Pattou also has not mastered show, don’t tell. The characters kept telling me things, but I never believed them because there was little proof in the story. In a fairytale retelling, I expect the author to add some depth to the story, not just expand it.
I also hated the treatment of Malmo (I almost stopped reading after her introduction). Malmo, an Inuit shaman, is a total badass, but Pattou chose to have her speaking broken English when she’s introduced. Rose meets some French people on her journey, but they don’t communicate with her in broken English (it’s supposed to be Norwegian in the story, but the book is written in English…) and Rose’s broken French is never spelled out the way Malmo’s broken English is. The way Malmo speaks is most similar to the way Rose and Tuki (A TROLL) communicate with each other.
The broken English mostly disappears after Malmo’s introduction (there are a few dropped articles whenever Malmo is speaking, but it’s much better than when she takes Rose to her house and tells her “Mamo home”). However, there is a part later in the book where Rose thinks, “After all, I was by then more than half Inuit.” No, Rose, just because you didn’t die in the snowy northern lands doesn’t make you half Inuit, and that was a gross sentiment for Pattou to put in your mouth.
My last complaint about the book is a pretty minor one. Pattou also uses terms like “bairn” and “summat.” The latter is used only once, but the former is used liberally throughout the first part of the book. I associate these terms with Scotland/Northern England (Pattou is American), not Norway. Bairn is related to an Old Norse term barn, so if Pattou was so attached to the term, I don’t know why she chose to use bairn over barn. I think she should have just used the word child, but I think she should have done a lot of things differently in the writing of East.
I only finished this book because it’s such an easy read. The chapters are short, and while I found that kept me from enjoying the story, it didn’t hinder my reading. Unless you are really interested in reading a retelling of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, I would suggest you skip East.**
*Why is it called East not North?
**Here’s a list of some other retellings of East of the Sun and West of the Moon.