Son of Bitter Glass by KB Hoyle

son of bitter glass cover imageSummary: A retelling of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson.

Son of Bitter Glass is the second in KB Hoyle’s Fairytale series. This series is set in the same world, but the novels are stand-alone. The first in the series was a gender-switched retelling of The Little Mermaid. The Son of Bitter Glass is a retelling of The Snow Queen. I have never read The Snow Queen, although these are elements of the story that I can see that CS Lewis adapted into The White Witch in The Lion, The Witch, And the Wardrobe. Disney’s Frozen was very loosely adapted from The Snow Queen as well. About halfway through the book, I skimmed the Wikipedia summary to see if I missed any significant elements or references. I do not think I was, and if you haven’t read The Snow Queen, I do not think you need to know the story to enjoy this book.

The Son of Bitter Glass opens with Eira and Isbrand as children. Eira is the daughter of an ambassador who himself is a friend of the king. Her mother died before she remembered her, but her father remarried so that she would have a mother. The stepmother has her own children with Eira’s father, and Eira feels out of step with her family. Her best friend is the prince, Isbrand (Isa), and they spend as much time together as they can apart from her family.

On Isa’s 12th birthday, a hobgoblin brings a curse from the Snow Queen. The queen is murdered, and the king, Eira’s father, and many others get a piece of the “bitter glass” in their eyes. But Eira protects Isa and keeps him safe from the bitter glass. The king charges Eira with protecting the prince. Over time, the childhood friends come to love one another romantically. But Eira is duty-bound to protect Isa, and it looks like Isa needs to marry another to keep him safe from the Snow Queen’s curse. As the story develops, there is a quest, and the one overlapping character of the series, James, helps Eira on her quest.

I am trying to keep the details vague because I do not want to spoil the story, although it is based on a short novel over 175 years old. So, if you want spoilers, they are easy to find. I like to go into fiction books with little understanding of the story. However, in a series that retells classic fairytales, part of the book’s fun is the elements that are the same or different from the source material.

I have read all of KB Hoyle’s fourteen books, many more than once. She is a storyteller who understands how classic stories are supposed to work. As I read this, I listened to the audiobook My Plain Jane. My Plain Jane was riffing off of Jane Eyre, but other than the rough outline, it was an entirely different book. It was a consciously postmodern self-referential novel filled with pop culture humor and joked about how backward the original story was. There is a place for that kind of retelling, but that isn’t the retelling this is. The Son of Bitter Glass takes the source material seriously as a fairy tale and keeps it a fairy tale. There are romantic elements, but this is a middle-grade or early YA book for pre-teens or early teens.

Part of what I like about classic novels is that the stories are more upfront about teaching. Some are more heavy-handed than I would prefer, but if you read a classic novel, you know that the novel is trying to teach you something about the world and how you should live. Sometimes, it is a negative teaching (how not to live), but often, the protagonist is imperfect but striving to do the right thing. Eira is imperfect, but she understands the concept of duty and is trying to do the right thing.

At one point, there is an explanation of the bitter glass that I think illustrates how the moral is clear.

“Do you understand? The bitter glass distorts their vision—their perception—of everything in the world. It makes good people forget their love of good things, and it makes them love bad things instead.” Nordika closed her pale eyes as if pained. “The curse meets each person where their heart is weakest and turns them inside out.” (p92)

I don’t mean that this is a moralistic book in the negative sense, but that it takes seriously the classic fairytale structure, which has a moral vision, and retells it in a form for current readers.

The Son of Bitter Glass is an excellent example of why I pick up every novel by KB Hoyle. They are well written, expertly plotted, and have significant depth to the books, so I always get more from multiple readings, and they are just plain enjoyable books. I look forward to her next novel.

Son of Bitter Glass by KB Hoyle Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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