Winter’s Child (Once Upon a Time Series)
by Cameron Dokey
Winter’s Child is the newest addition to the teen Once Upon a Time series, a collection of fairy tale retellings. The series began in 2002 and has been printing two or three stories every year since. The stories selected for transformation range from traditional tales like Snow White and Cinderella to more unusual choices, like The Magic Flute and the lives of Pocahontas and Anastasia. Winter’s Child sets out to re-spin Han Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.
Grace and Kai have been best friends forever – how could they avoid it when they grew up next door to each other? They played together by day and in the evenings, Grace’s grandmother would tell them legends about the Winter’s Child, an immortal princess from the land of ice and snow cursed to undo the damage wrought upon the world when her mother smashed a cursed mirror filled with fear and released its damaging shards throughout the world. When the old woman dies, Grace and Kai have only each other for companionship, but Kai’s marriage proposal – a perfectly logical step – is shot down by Grace’s desire for freedom. When the Winter Child shows up, Kai eagerly decides to accompany her on her quest. Grace immediately sets out to follow them, and finally experiences the adventure she’s been craving.
The book is set up into thirteen ‘stories,’ following the format set forth in the original Snow Queen. Grace, Kai and Deidre the Winter’s Child alternate as storytellers. The first half the book sets the stage very well; Deidre’s life is told in the fantastic style of fairy tales while Grace and Kai live in a gritty poverty. The Christian elements of Andersen’s tale have been removed, too, grounding Kai and Grace in a difficult world with little hope of divine intervention. But it gets a little awkward around Kai’s departure, because the Winter Child is a radical departure from the Snow Queen. Whereas the Snow Queen is a beautiful enigma whose motivations are known only to herself, Deidre is a teenager who has been lonely for many years, trapped in her sixteenth year until her quest is complete. She acts just like a teenage girl with her first crush. She’s giddy, she’s hopeful…she’s not sad. Over and over, we’re told her name is ‘Sorrow’ and that names match their owners perfectly, but she rarely seems as icy or as unhappy as we’re told she is.
When Grace is following Kai and the Winter’s Child, the story gets a little disconnected. An old woman tries to distract her, and she is captured by a band of thieves. These are both part of the original tale, so they had to be included, but we rush through the scenes so quickly that it feels like they were added to complete a checklist of important points from The Snow Queen. The ending, too, wraps up too quickly and too neatly, with a last-minute character addition to ‘fix’ the developing love triangle.
This is the first book I’ve read in the Once Upon a Time series, and it intrigues me enough that I want to check out more of the series. Although the plot has its weak points, Winter’s Child is true to the fairy tale genre and a fun way to re-imagine The Snow Queen.