The Raven and the Reindeer
by T. Kingfisher
When Gerta’s friend Kay is stolen away by the mysterious Snow Queen, it’s up to Gerta to find him. Her journey will take her through a dangerous land of snow and witchcraft, accompanied only by a bandit and a talking raven. Can she win her friend’s release, or will following her heart take her to unexpected places?
Well, this was fun!
The Snow Queen is one of those fairy tales I’ve always had something of a difficult relationship with. I love the idea of this story – I love that it’s a girl sent to rescue a boy rather than the other way around as it so often is in traditional tales – but whenever I come across a version of this story I can’t help feeling the boy in question, known as Kai in the original tale, doesn’t actually deserve to be rescued. If he’s too blind to see Gerda right there in front of him, then he doesn’t deserve her.
Enter The Raven and the Reindeer, which takes The Snow Queen, gives it a little shake and ultimately gives me the version of this story I’ve always wanted.
Gerta and Kay grew up next door to one another. Their grandmothers are best friends, so it’s only natural that the two of them would be best friends, and they are – when Kay isn’t playing with the other children, that is.
Gerta adores Kay and has spent her whole life putting him on a pedestal. She’s hopeful that the two of them will get married one day – after all, Kay is always telling her how she’s not like other girls – but after Gerta’s grandmother tells them the tale of the Snow Queen, the Snow Queen herself arrives, as though in a dream, and spirits Kay away to her ice palace. Kay has always been obsessed with the snow, he loves its ‘purity’, and when it becomes clear to Gerta that no one else will go after him, she sets off with her grandmother’s blessing to rescue the boy she loves.
Gerta is so sweet, but she’s also incredibly believable. Sadly I think a lot of us girls can relate to making ourselves seem lesser in our youth to impress someone who doesn’t actually deserve it, and what I most loved about this book is that it’s less about Gerta finding Kay, although that is the story at its most basic level, and more about Gerta coming to the realisation that she’s worth more than Kay’s estimation of her.
Like all the best journeys, Gerta’s isn’t a straightforward one and, if you’re familiar with The Snow Queen, you’ll recognise a lot of the characters she meets and the challenges she faces. By far my favourite twist, though, is that not only does Gerta realise she deserves a lot better than the way Kay’s treated her all her life, but when a romance does land in her lap it’s with another girl. I loved their relationship. Does it develop quickly? Yes, but given the fairy tale vibe this short novel has I didn’t mind it at all because the characters were such fun together. In the short time Gerta knows Janna she does more for her than Kay ever has, and it makes her reconsider what love should look like, whoever that love’s between, and it’s just plain lovely.
By far the star of this novel, though, is Mousebones the raven. I can’t remember the last time I loved an animal companion this much. He’s genuinely funny, in fact the novel as a whole was a lot funnier than I expected it to be and I loved the sense of humour throughout it. It’s a well told, tongue-in-cheek retelling with a cheeky little glint in its eye, and I had a great time reading it.