The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge won the Hugo Award in 1981 and was also nominated for a Nebula Award. This science fiction novel was followed by a shorter novel, World’s End, which is the story of what happened to BZ Gundhalinu after the first novel ended. The Summer Queen is the direct sequel to The Snow Queen and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1992. The most recent novel set in this universe, Tangled Up In Blue, is a stand-alone about BZ Gundhalinu that takes place during the earlier part of The Snow Queen. Unfortunately, The Snow Queen and World’s End are both out of print now.
The story of The Snow Queen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale sharing the same title. The planet Tiamat is divided into two peoples, the Winters and the Summers. For about 150 years, the Stargate to other worlds remains open and during this time Tiamat is ruled by a Winter Queen. Once the gate closes and the foreigners leave, the Winter Queen is removed in favor of a Summer Queen. The Winters enjoy the technological benefits of the offworlders who visit during their time in power, but the Summers are a more spiritual people who do not share the Winters’ interest in technology and are considered to be a rather primitive people by the Winters.
The reign of the Winter Queen, Arienrhod, is drawing to an end after 150 years during which she has been kept young by the “water of life.” Reluctant to lose her important position, Arienrhod secretly had several clones created and raised as Summers in the hopes that one will survive and succeed her as queen. Only one of these doubles grows up to be a possibility for Arienrhod’s successor, Moon Dawntreader Summer.
Moon and her cousin Sparks grew up together – and grew to love each other. Ever since they were young, Moon and Sparks have dreamed of becoming sybils, whom the Summers respect for their ability to enter into a trance and answer questions posed to them truly. While Moon passes the test, Sparks does not which causes a rift between them, particularly as it is known that to love a sybil is death. Sparks leaves for the Winter town of Carbuncle where Arienrhod rules, and once the queen hears that her clone’s cousin is there, she uses him to draw Moon near. Yet her plan goes awry and Moon ends up leaving the world behind – and leaving both Arienrhod and Sparks to turn to each other while mourning her loss. However, Moon learns some important truths offworld and feels it is her destiny to return to Tiamat.
The Snow Queen was not only my favorite book read in 2009 but is now one of my absolute favorite books I have ever read. It was a little slow at times, especially toward the beginning, but the way it all came together later made me feel even the slower parts added a lot. The world of Tiamat and the characters were both fascinating, and some of the scenes toward the end were so bittersweet and haunting that they will be sticking with me for a long time to come.
This is a difficult book for me to talk about without spoilers since the second half is where it began taking off and tying everything together so nicely. There’s not anything I can think of that I didn’t like about it since even the parts that seemed to drag a little when I first read them seemed important to me later – I don’t think it would have been the same without them. I loved the writing, the characters, the story, the romance and the social structure of the planet Tiamat.
If there was one flaw I saw, it may be that Moon seemed too perfect – everyone seemed to love her, she showed kindness to those she had every reason to hate, she was beautiful, she never stopped caring for Sparks even when he could be a bit of a jerk, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a sybil and she attained special knowledge. None of this mattered to me, though, and I even thought it worked with her character when it came to seeing how she was so similar yet so different from Arienrhod. They both had some shared traits but Moon was so innocent while the older queen was manipulative. It made me wonder if young Arienrhod was more like Moon and what that means for Moon’s future.
Other than Moon, there were other characters who had their time in the limelight and I enjoyed reading about every single one of them. At first, I found myself wanting to just read about Moon or Arienrhod and wondered why there was time spent with some of the other characters, but by the end I found I couldn’t imagine the book without each and every one of them as all of their stories affected me.
Tiamat itself was such a wonderful place to visit and was very well-developed without being full of dull descriptions. I really enjoyed reading about the divide between the Summers and Winters, the sybils and how they were viewed by the two different peoples and the discovery of what sybils were as well as the revelation about the source of the water of life.
The Snow Queen is a wonderful science fiction book with a well-realized setting and culture, great characters I came to really sympathize with, lovely writing and some memorable scenes. It’s one of those rare books that I just love and wouldn’t change in the least. I’m very much looking forward to reading The Summer Queen and more by Joan D. Vinge.
My Rating: 10/10
Where I got my reading copy: My husband gave me a signed copy for Christmas.