The Snow Queen • 1980 • Science Fantasy novel by Joan D. Vinge

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve read and reviewed this novel in November 2013. Enjoy the unaltered text copied over from GoodReads.

Wow, now look at that cover art by Michael Whelan!

This Science Fantasy novel follows the plot line of Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, with main characters Moon as Gerda, Sparks as Kai, and Arienrhod as the eponymous protagonist. All of those characters stay a bit flat, I wasn’t able to really connect to them. Characters’ names sound a bit silly first, but they fit their “Summer” savage cultural background and contrast “Winters'” and otherworlders’ names.
Beside Andersen’s story, the novel steers toward one very important recurring point of history, bringing together several cultures in one event called “the Change”: The winter queen goes into the sea and is replaced by the summer queen, all watched by two otherworld cultures. The Hegemony’s interest in the planet of Tiamat has to do with the sentient creatures called “Mers”: Slaughtering them brings the “water of life” which halts aging.

Best part of the novel is the carefully crafted setting. I wouldn’t say impressive, though: The city of Tiamat is just a standard space port city which isn’t really coming to live. But I like the background with Old Empire reaching into the cultural clash of Winter/Summer, the concept of Sibyls with its SF and fantasy interpretations, and smaller details like animal pit fights or relationship of Hegemony and Snow Queen’s court.

There are several additional characters involved, some of them where far more interesting than the main characters: Police commander Jerusha and her crew, a group of smugglers, and one underground character with her roboter.

Main plot and side plots are mostly predictable, e.g. when Sparks arrives in the city of Carbuncle and his first experiences there.
I don’t mind that the main plot isn’t an outstanding feature in this novel. I didn’t expect it to be, because it should follow or respect Anderson’s lead.

Tension arc didn’t work for me at all: An overlong exposition taking more than half of the novel would have led to less than 3 stars. It was only the last 30% or so where I really got involved and where I came to the conclusion that I like the novel. In my opinion, the novel doesn’t deserve the amount of 1981’s awards (Hugo and Locus).

Update from 2021:I haven’t read anything else from Joan D. Vinge (not to be confused with Vernor Vinge!), and looking at her isfdb bibliography, it became very quiet around her since 2013. 

Meta: isfdb. It won Hugo and Nebula Awards.

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6 Responses to The Snow Queen • 1980 • Science Fantasy novel by Joan D. Vinge

  1. pdtillman says:

    “Wow, now look at that cover art by Michael Whelan!”
    Whelan at his best! And that’s (basically) all I recall about this novel.
    I’m pretty sure I read “Outcasts of Heaven Belt” back in the day (circa 1980) and some of her shorts. But none of them ring any bells at this late date.

    So I guess she remains best known as “Vernor’s Ex”….
    This 2007 open letter is kinda interesting:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember reading this one many years ago (probably around the time of publication or a little after) and I only have a very vague recollection of story and characters, but I know that I enjoyed it back then: your comments about the long buildup and the overall flatness of the characters makes me wonder if I would still like it with all the changes in reading tastes I underwent since then…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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