Monday, March 31, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (Karen Foxlee)

Despite having seen (and really enjoyed) Frozen last year, I must confess that I haven't read nor am I very familiar with the original Snow Queen story. Despite that, I plowed through and decided to look at another retelling of the tale (I promise I'll read the original soon).

Karen Foxlee's Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is indeed a retelling of the Andersen fairy tale, but it's more than that. Ophelia's father is a world-renowned expert on swords, and a faraway museum has announced that they're opening an exhibit on that very thing. He takes Ophelia, and her older sister Alice with him. The three of them are still reeling from the death of Ophelia and Alice's mother, and it's clear to Ophelia that her father's burying himself in his work is an attempt to return to normalcy.

So she ends up at the museum, in the land where it never stops snowing. Bored and lonely, she begins to explore when she comes across a locked door. A boy trapped on the other side begins to talk to her through the keyhole, informing her that he has been locked away for three hundred years. If he doesn't get out soon, the Snow Queen will destroy the world. But Ophelia, scientific to the last, is a bit doubtful of all of it. Nonetheless, she gives in (against her better judgment) and decides to help him.

The boy, who is nameless, sends Ophelia all around the museum looking for all the things she'll need to set him free, and in between quests he tells her the story of how he came from a faraway land to defeat the Snow Queen. It's a lot of lovely storytelling, enchanting without being too bogged-down by details. Ophelia's adventures in the museum are dazzling, too, a perfect blend of slightly frightening and full of wonder. That's perhaps my favorite thing about this book: its setting, which feels like being trapped inside of a decadent snowglobe. It's a vividly imagined place, and it's delightful.

Foxlee has written a great book. Her main character is the ideal precocious, troubled heroine who battles with the outside world and her own self-doubt. The novel manages to address a dead mother in a delicate, under the surface way that stops it from feeling tacked-on or glaring. This is always a risk with books for younger readers, but the author avoids getting preachy or obviously didactic.

All in all, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fun read. It's got adventure, lush storytelling, a delightful atmosphere and heart. There are familiar elements of a lot of stories here, but they're cobbled together in such a way that it feels fresh and new. I had a blast, and I think you will, too.

My rating: 4.5/5
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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