I was thrilled when The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey landed on my doorstep free from Waterstones! It was also followed by perfect, wintry weather but for some reason, winter slipped past and before I knew it spring was blooming all around me, and I had still not picked the book up! So at the beginning of April, when the weather surprised the whole of the UK with a couple of days of unexpected snow, I was secretly quite pleased. This book is definitely meant to be enjoyed on a snowy day whilst wrapped up in a comfortable blanket or duvet.
This magical story was inspired by the old Russian fairytale of Snegurochka, or The Snow Maiden. The fairytale is about a lonely, old couple who make a little daughter out of snow. Although, I had never heard of this particular fairytale, when I was younger I used to love Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. There is something about a cold, icy setting that is just perfect for a magical tale, and when reading The Snow Child, I felt all of those fond memories coming back to me.
Similar to the fairytale, The Snow Child also has a lonely couple; Jack and Mabel. Grief has taken them far from their families, to settle in Alaska and try to make a life from the land they are given as a homestead. The novel has a sad opening, introducing us to the depressed Mabel, who is mourning the loss of a stillborn baby. The isolation of her home may disconnect her from the prying family members that she left behind, but she can never escape this sadness that burdens her.
The grief stricken couple are doing their best, but with the oncoming winter, no help and their money running out, something has to change. And with the cold winds and the first snow, something does change and gradually life becomes bearable for Jack and Mabel. The couple find a new tenderness for each other and even laugh when the snow begins to fall. That night, on a whim, they create a child out of snow and go to bed remembering their almost forgotten love for each other.
The next day the snow child has disappeared, along with the mittens and scarf the couple had given her. This could be explained away, but most mysterious of all, there was one set of footprints leading away from where the snow child had stood – Footprints the shape of child-size boots. Then a little girl comes to them. To start with she is just a flicker at the corner of their eyes, but gradually she comes closer and closer and it feels as though their dreams have become reality – they have been sent a daughter.
Eowyn Ivey has tackled the difficult subject of grief from an interesting angle. She is not afraid to show the suffocating depression that surrounds the couple as they mourn and as they struggle to make their new life work. Reading the first chapters, you can almost feel that oppressive hopelessness in the air around you. The Snow Child is not all tragedy and bereavement though, and it is not just the little girl that brings hope and happiness. The Benson family who live nearby are an unexpected bonus to the story and show the true meaning of friendship. It is hard not to smile when gentle Mabel and boisterous Esther Benson are in the same room. Their blossoming relationship brightens up not only Mabel’s life, but the pages of the book.
The Snow Child was everything that I hoped it would be, and more. I was particularly impressed with the simplicity of the writing. Told with a crisp clarity, the writing complements the ruthless and isolated Alaskan setting, and yet the warmth and hope shines through with gentle descriptions of the beauty surrounding the homestead. I will definitely be looking out for any new releases from this fantastic author.
As with any fairytale, The Snow Child is laced with magic, but what surprised me was how in touch with reality this novel is. I highly recommend this wonderful book to anyone who enjoys a good story. As it says on the back of my copy, The Snow Child certainly is “a bewitching story of heartbreak and hope”.
This is definitely a book worth having on your shelf – look at the beautiful cover! Click the picture below to buy it.