In this tale of the 500 Kingdoms, we travel to the far north, where dwells Alexia, the Ice Fairy, also known as the Snow Queen. In reality, she is a fairy godmother, who is tasked mainly with bringing otherwise normal young men who believe that they are better than other people because of their intelligence and creativity, to their senses. In fact, there is a young man she is playing host to already, named Kay, who has the capacity to become a maker of terrible devices and weapons, without some sort of feelings for his fellow man. So while she stymies him with bleak isolation and loneliness, the very sort of thing he had once wished for, she guides the path of the girl who loves him so that she will learn strength and self-sufficiency, enough to stand up to Kay when and if he is reformed.
As she does so, in a far away village, amongst the Sammi people, Annukka, a shamaness/witch is preparing for winter, with the help of her son's love, Kaari. But Kaari brings her word that something is very wrong with Veikko, Annukka's son, who is a wizard and a warrior and has gone even further north to apprentice to a pair of smith/mages, Ilmari and Lemminkal. Something there has killed three entire villages of people, frozen them to death, and Veikko and his mentors have gone in search of it to kill it. But obviously, something has gone wrong.
Alexia becomes aware of this as well, and is infuriated that such a foul witch would steal her moniker of "The Snow Queen". Although she is a fairy Godmother, unlike her friend Elena, she has never gone on an adventure herself. But to bring down the foul imposter so that those seeking the witch do not come seeking her, she will now have to seek out solutions and take care of the problem herself, even as Annukka and Kaari come to the same conclusion and set out north to find Veikko.
The secrets of the faux-Snow Queen are not easy to plumb, however, and death lies all too near in the frozen north, now in the grip of a dreadful winter made even worse by the monster Veikko and his mentors came to fight, the Iceheart. Can this diverse band come together to fight the menace of the false Snow Queen, or will they turn on Alexia, thinking her the true threat, and lock the north in a never-ending hell of ice and snow?
I really enjoyed this book, which enlarges the world of the 500 Kingdoms to make the real Snow Queen a figure of good, not evil. Instead of stealing away blameless boys and turning them cold and aloof with shards of ice, she takes those who are already cold and aloof and shows them how miserable a life lived apart from other people can be, and works to reform them via the power of love. Unlike most fairy Godmothers, who give equally of rewards and punishments, Alexia is mainly concerned with reforming bad characters by appearing cold, aloof and uncaring. But her public life and private life are incredibly different, and she often tires of her job, or the mean boys she must put up with while she reforms them.
Her first foray into adventure is also amazing, with visits to the Sammi lands of the dead, and the Sammi themselves, who seem to have no connections to the Traditions at all. In fact, they have traditions of their own, but those "traditions" have no magical force behind them at all, which is both good and bad, and Alexia must exert her influence over the magic of the traditions, which is balked in Sammi lands, to conform to the paths that will most help them recover Viekko and defeat the false Snow Queen.
Another wonderful book I cannot praise too highly. Go and read it, if you haven't already!