By Sally Prue
Published by Oxford
ISBN 978 0 19 272965 1
Sally Prue's Ice Maiden is a clever and intriguing mix of reality and fairy story. If the thought of reading anything to do with fairies is not for you, think again. Prue's fairies are not your usual flimsy, goody-goody creatures. The fairy protagonists in Ice Maiden are tough, fierce and fighting for survival; gossamer-winged Tinkerbells they are not.
Ice Maiden is firmly anchored in the real world. We are in Britain in 1939, on the brink of war. In Germany, the Nazis are savagely cleansing their country of Jews.
German teenager Franz and his parents are living, amid much tension, in England. Franz is an outsider. The local teenage boys are wary of the German boy in their village, and they either bully him or give him a wide berth. Franz knows that his parents are members of the Nazi Party, and he does not trust them, leading to a wide gulf between parents and son. Franz has seen frightening things in Germany, and his parents are obviously hiding a lot from him. He's not a particularly happy young man.
But there is one place where Franz feels safe and happy. Outside the village there is a stretch of wild countryside called the common, and Franz spends much time there enjoying the wildlife, trees and plants. It is a place of peace and calm. But Franz does not realise that something is watching him as he walks alone there.
This beautiful stretch of countryside is home to the Tribe, a group of elfin creatures who see humans as foul, clumsy, hideous beings. To their minds, such disgusting demons are to be avoided at all costs: they tie themselves to one another with slave vine strings called emotions, and don't know the meaning of freedom.
But they have to admit the lonely boy demon who spends hours alone on their territory is different.
Edrin, a beautiful but deadly huntress in the Tribe, is also an outsider. She feels at odds with the "hunt or be hunted, fight or die" lifestyle of her fellows. She knows that there has to be something more to elfin existence than this.
She also knows that others in the Tribe are aware of her dissatisfaction and are watching her with murderous intent.
Franz and Edrin exist in different worlds, but they are both very much at risk. Slowly, these two outsiders are drawn to each other and their worlds are about to collide. Can they both survive when it happens?
Ice Maiden is a short but intense novel written with clarity and authority. Parts of the story are like a dream and others are frighteningly real.
This slim book packs a punch that many heftier and more overblown novels aim for and miss by a mile. Prue is an imaginative and thoughtful writer, and Ice Maiden is a little gem.