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Rose has always been different. Since the day she was born, it was clear that she had a special fate. Her superstitious mother keeps the unusual circumstances of Rose’s birth a secret, hoping to prevent her adventurous daughter from leaving home…but she can’t suppress Rose’s true nature forever.

So when an enormous white bear shows up and asks teenage Rose to come away with it – in exchange for health and prosperity for her family – she agrees.

The beautiful cover art of East caught my attention. It is a retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and I love fairy tales.

Pattou tells this traditional story in an interesting way, using the alternating points of view of Rose, the White Bear, the Troll Queen, Rose’s brother Neddy and her father the mapmaker. The chapters are short and it works – the different narrators don’t throw you out of the story. The wondrous tone of the original tale is still there. It also seems to build on the motif of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche.

There is a compass theme running throughout the book, reminders of direction and travel to far-flung lands. Rose’s mother heard a prophecy that her north-born child would be buried under ice and snow. For this reason, she hides the truth from Rose – that she is a north-born – in an attempt to keep her at home. Rose longs for adventure, though, and one night a White Bear comes for her. Her motivation for going with him was not a selfish one. She only leaves because he tells her that her family will be provided for, and that her dying sister will be healed.

The bear takes her to a distant and empty castle carved into a mountain. There, she spends her days weaving, and she is joined at night by a mysterious stranger. When she finally discovers his identity, she makes the decision to set out on another long journey. This time, it’s a rescue mission, and she is searching for the land of the Troll Queen with only the words “…east of the sun, west of the moon” to help her.

I really loved this book. Rose is a strong, independent and adventurous young girl. It was great to see a change from the tired old “damsel in distress” approach. There are interesting subplots and the whole thing winds together into a compelling tale. The details add a sense of realism about it. I didn’t even blink when the talking bear showed up. The Troll Queen was a fantastic character and her point of view was interesting and believable. The trolls were well-imagined and original. There is a lot of humor here as well.

All in all, East is a great book and I recommend it to anyone who loves fairy tales, mythology, fantasy, and strong female characters.

5 out of 5 stars – couldn’t put it down