Ice Maiden is a ‘prequel’ to an earlier book by Sally Prue, Cold Tom, which was reviewed by BfK in July 2002 (No.135). Set in 1939, the novel presents us with Franz, a German boy living on the edge of an English town. Franz has disturbing childhood memories of the Nazis in Berlin, not the least of which is his impression that his parents approve of the persecution of minorities. Close to Franz’s house is the common, bursting with new life and home to the Tribe, wraith-like fairies who are seen by humans, if at all, as ‘shining faintly, like the moon through mist’. However, there is nothing wraith-like about their fangs and claws, and they live in the unsentimental natural world of the hunters and the hunted – not unlike the social Darwinism propagated by the Nazis, in fact. Although the Tribe sees humans as ‘demons’ – crude, coarse and unbearable – one member, Edrin, becomes strangely attracted to Franz, who in turn finds that her ‘desperate fierceness’ reflects his view that ‘humans are animals’.
Franz thinks of Edrin as the ‘ice maiden’ not only because her presence is felt by a shaft of freezing air, but also because of a story recounted by his father – ‘a typical jolly Germanic folk tale, full of doom and death’. The novel deftly weaves together this German folklore with the English fairy-tale as reflected in, for example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The savagery of the Tribe sits alongside the delicacy of its members – one minute, Edrin is carrying a half-eaten rabbit, ‘flopping twin black bulbs of juicy eyes’, the next we are reading about the fineness of her bones and the ‘heart-stopping beauty’ of the Tribe’s members. Sally Prue writes some enchanting passages (‘the stars surrounded her, crimson and gold and swirling sapphire, close enough to breathe the spices on their breath’) while maintaining fascinating parallels between historical events and fantasy. The book has a very positive ending, and will be enjoyed by readers from 10 upwards.