Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.
Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it earlier.
‘I will go with you,’ Rose said to the bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animal’s great paw flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.
(North Child by Edith Pattou. P91.)
No matter how hard her mother tried to deny it, Rose was born facing North. And just like the old stories about North-born children say, she longs to venture far from home.
When her sister gets dangerously ill, and the family is in danger of losing its home, Rose makes a pact with a mysterious white bear. In exchange for her sister’s survival and her family’s prosperity, Rose follows the bear to a strange palace where she remains with him, uncertain why he called on her.
Rose spends her days exploring the palace and weaving in the sewing room. At night somebody sleeps beside her, but she never quite sees this person’s face. The more Rose sees of the palace, and the more she comes to like the bear, the more curious she gets.
Can she unravel the secret of the palace without ruining her own destiny?
It has been some time since I got so thoroughly immersed in a book. This is a story told in multiple voices, often in short chapters, but the plot is so satisfying and the language so beautiful that I lost myself within its pages. Reading it was like sinking into a dream and I spent my days waiting for the chance to pick the book up again.
Inspired by the fairy tale East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, North Child is mainly about two characters: Rose, the adventurous girl who was always destined to leave her family, and the mysterious white bear. We also hear from the Troll Queen, our antagonist, and her story of desire and greed and heartless cruelty interweaves with those of the main characters.
Rose’s mother, father and brother Neddy are also given narrative voices. This may seem unusual at first, but Pattou pulls it off with great skill and the result is that we get a rounded picture of Rose. We learn about her home life and the people she loves even when she is miles away from them.
It seems no coincidence that weaving and threads are motifs within this narrative. The writing itself is like many richly coloured threads worked together into a tapestry.
There are so many memorable imagines within this story. Rose working at a loom to create herself a cloak fit for adventure. The White Bear carrying Rose over a frozen landscape. Rose and the Bear playing music in their many hours together in the palace. This is a very visual, very detailed story that remains in the mind in vignettes much like a fairy tale.
An epic tale about love and possessive desire told by a great storyteller. If you love fairy tale adaptations or simply good writing, this one is for you. The perfect story for long Wintery nights.
Thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending a proof copy of North Child. Opinions my own.