Review | The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
Moon is a Summer and a sybil. She’s a holy woman from a part of her planet that rejects technology that has been brought by offworlders. Her cousin Sparks is her soulmate, but the two can’t be together. To marry a sybil is to die. So, the two part, sending Sparks to be among the Winters, the powerful, technologically savvy city dwellers. But Moon isn’t just special for being a sybil. She’s also the key to the Winter Queen’s plot to stay in power forever.
The Snow Queen just got a reprint to celebrate its 35th anniversary of winning the Hugo and Nebula awards. The new trade paperback is gorgeous.
Vinge’s story is a fairly classic fantasy adventure-romance. Snow is a princess-perfect kind of character. She’s determined, kind, everyone loves her. She leaves to follow her One True Love when he calls for her help. In that regard, the story is underwhelming. It’s value isn’t really in Moon, nor is it in Sparks, whose storyline is fairly predictable: separated from girl, becomes briefly evil, magically becomes good again.
The story is interesting because of some of the early twists and the side characters. One prominent character named Jerusha is among the first ever female police captains. She’s an offworlder with a high post she know she got because the invading force wanted to humor the native government. She’s constantly trying to prove herself while others fail and, at the start of the story, she is fighting to keep order in a world that doesn’t want it. Her frustrations were easily one of the more interesting parts of the story.
The story has an interesting setting and a very distinct magic system. The sybils are like oracles, but cursed. They cause madness in those who spill their blood. The offworlders write it off as silly nonsense, and eventually the sybils are only members of the Summers who reject technology.
The story itself has a lot to do with Fate and True Love (yes, with capital letters). It toys briefly with some meatier themes like addiction and abuse, but doesn’t really go into them and glosses over a lot of the resolutions. It does talk about environmentalism, poaching, and humane treatment of other animals, which was interesting. I thought the resolution there still wasn’t what it could have been.
Frankly, I found it a bit unsatisfying. It seemed like a lot of the more interesting and thought-provoking points are dropped in favor of romance. The main plot was fairly predictable. That doesn’t mean that another person wouldn’t enjoy it, though. I tend not to be a very fantasy-heavy reader. I like fantasy, but more in the literary tradition than the high fantasy one.