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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Atmospheric and Magical Tale set in Alaska

31st March, 2017

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Mabel and Jack are a childless couple. They move to the untamed Alaskan wilderness to start a new life and run away from their grief. Then, a magical child intrudes into their lives.


This is one of the most difficult novels to review. I enjoyed the novel so much, that I don’t think this review would convey my deepest feelings about the book. To take the easy way out, here is a quote. If you would like to read a whole novel with quotes like this, you would find this to be a wonderful companion to your nightstand reading pile.

All her life she believed in something more, in the mystery that shapeshifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth-wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned water to light.”

Wasn’t that quote just beautiful? The Snow Child is based on a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Maiden. Mabel who has read the story of the snow maiden as a child, immediately sees the connection to the strange blonde haired child (who goes by the name Faina) with a red fox, who intrudes into their lives, the day after Mabel and Jack build a girl of snow outside their cabin.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Ivey makes you feel so connected to her characters. She brings out the best in her secondary characters as well. I found myself ardently believing, like Mabel, that the snow child is a magical being. When Mabel, gripped by the fear of losing this daughter, reads the old fairy tales and tries to bring out a different ending to the story (In the original fairytales, the old couple lose the snow child) by leaving meat for a fox, and urging not to shoot the fox, I did not in the least think she was being dramatic over a trivial matter. Rather I was relieved she was taking measures to save this adopted daughter who came into their lives. Putting rational thinking aside, I found myself nodding and thinking ‘How very essential’ to Mabel’s superstitious beliefs.

The themes of the novel are intense – death and renewal of life. Ivey has put forward a contrasting picture here. The bleak, lifeless winter is when the snow child visits the childless couple and brings them joy. When the rest of the world wakes up to signs of life after the winter and snow, this is when a death-like feeling looms on Mabel and Jack as the snow child leaves them when the snow melts. Another particular incident that stands out is the killing of a swan. This brings out the feral side of Faina on administering death to an angelic creature as the swan. On the other hand the brutal incident renews an understanding and love between Faina and a young lad.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The prose is lyrical and charming. Ivey’s descriptions are detailed and transport you to the Alaskan landscape. Towards the end of the book, I knew what to expect. But the writing fills you with so much anguish that you begin to hope that something magical can happen to sort it all out.

Final Verdict :

I could not stop reading this book. It is beautifully written and captures the beauty of the landscape and the turmoil in the mind of characters. I would not call the book one that strictly adheres to magical realism because even though Mabel makes up her theories for the birth of her ‘snow child’ , her husband tells the readers what the truth looks like, thus stripping the book of its sublime fantastical elements. I loved the subtle elements of magical realism and the overall fairytale tone of the book. Highly recommended, especially for a winter’s night.

Title : The Snow Child
Author : Eowyn Ivey
Publisher : Headline Books
Published : 2012
Language : English
Pages : 423
Rating : 5/5

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The Snow Child
This Post Has 42 Comments
  1. Oh, this book! I loved it so much, love reading most reviews about it. It’s definitely one of those that just stays with you for such a long time. And absolutely beautiful, vivid tale. Except the ending broke my heart ;_;
    And particularly that ending… you never do find out what she was. There were parts of the book (like the one with her father) which showed that she was just a normal human being, but that ending… that ending makes you doubt it all over again. That unclearness just.. completely aggravated me. It doesn’t take away from the book at all, but I wish I knew! >.<

    1. I am glad you loved the book so much. I was in two minds when I started reading because the pacing seemed a bit slow to my taste. Boy! Was I ever so wrong? I was sucked into the world. The atmosphere, the magic, the eery fairytale like writing. Wow. I will surely be revisiting the book in the future.

  2. Great review – you certainly did convey your feelings about it! I’ve heard so many good things about this one and have actually had the audiobook version for ages, but still haven’t made time for it. I must! Thanks for the reminder… 😀

  3. I’ve had this one on my TBR for a long time. I love that I’m not familiar with this Russian fairytale. Often times, you go into fairytale retellings knowing nearly everything, so it’s nice to pick up one that isn’t well known. The writing in this one sounds amazing. Thanks for the awesome review!

  4. I LOVE atmospheric reads! I’ve been eyeing this one for a while but never quite gotten around to reading it. Your review has moved it further up my TBR for sure!

  5. I loved this book, and author, too. The Snow Child was our “If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book” choice a few years back. When she came out with her second novel, At the Bright Edge of the World, I didn’t think it could top The Snow Child. But for me, it did. That novel, too, is extraordinary and will likely remain one of my favorite novels ever. Thanks for this great review.

    1. Thank you Valorie. I am so glad I read this book. I heard At the Bright Edge of the World isn’t as atmospheric and magical as the girl child. So I am waiting to pick it at a later time. I think the hangover from The Snow Child will last me a very long time. I am so glad you loved the book too.

  6. I read The Snow Child a few years ago and absolutely loved it. I don’t mind books where you need to suspend belief in order to enjoy the story. I thought Ivey’s writing was beautiful and loved the magical quality of this book. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful novel. I’m so glad you liked it!

    1. Thank you Susie. Yes, I adored the way Ivey describes everything in the book. And I loved the mysterious feel that hangs throughout the read. I am glad you loved the book too.

    1. Same with me. I have always wanted to read the book, but never picked it up from the shelf. Doesn’t that happen to some books? Finally, thanks to a read along on Instagram, I picked the book in January, and I was so pleased with it. I hope you will enjoy the read.

  7. Ah Resh, you’ve made me want this book even before this review so I’m sure I’ll not put it away reading it for longer that a few days! Great review as always.

  8. This is a favourite of mine too. Partly, I think, because of the fairy-tale flavour and partly because I really love wintry tales. Partly, too, because of the delicate handling of the twinned themes of loss and companionship/love.

    For those reasons, I could not be AS fond of the second novel. But. I think it is just as good.

    It does have the same love of wilderness (just not all snowy). And it has letters in it (which I love in stories, especially as here it allows for some very personal bits of the story to be shared which wouldn’t have fit as well in exposition, for the female character in particular, about her experiences). And there is still a similar focus on companionship and devotion, but I won’t say any more about that, because it’s a very different story, but you have the feeling that the same energy is beneath the details.

    So it probably depends what exactly appealed to you most about this one and how much you would be willing to accept some variations on parts of it, but I wouldn’t rule it out yet. I was hesitant but very pleasantly surprised.

    1. Thank you so much for talking about Eowyn Ivey’s second book. I do not have in on my immediate TBR; mainly because I heard there is less of a magical quality to the story. But I do want to read it and see how she progressed as a writer. I will surely be reading it because I think I would like to see all the points you have mentioned – the wilderness, letters and love in a new setting

  9. Aren’t book hangovers the best feeling? It’s always such an amazing feeling when you find a book you love so much you are almost scared to discuss it or pick up a new book. I haven’t heard much about this book before, but you convinced me I should read it with just that one quote. I just borrowed it from my library!

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