Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
by Karen Foxlee
Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 0385753543, January 2014
Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help.
This modern revamp of The Snow Queen debuts just in time to capitalize on the popularity of Frozen but needs no forerunner to make a splash.
Ophelia’s a proud cynic, mainly in reaction to the loss of her mother, who loved fairy tales and wrote fantasy stories. No magic or miracles kept her mother from dying, so Ophelia now focuses on cold, hard facts, head over heart, thank you so much. When she meets the Marvelous Boy, whose true name was taken by the wizards who set him on his quest hundreds of years ago, Ophelia is plunged into a world of magic and danger where carnivorous misery birds and giant owls are after her, the toll of a clock’s bell can signal the end of the world, and only a magical sword wielded by a true hero can stop the Snow Queen from bringing about a winter even George R. R. Martin couldn’t imagine.
Foxlee keeps very little of the original Snow Queen fairy tale, and her decision proves sound. Her characters and ideas have more to say than a straight retelling could accomplish. While the hook for readers is definitely the well-done fantasy aspect, the core of the story is the fragmentation of a family after the death of a major member, the way the survivors suddenly can’t relate to each other the same way without her, how closed to each other their grief and her absence causes them to become. Ophelia responds to her grief by trying to shut off her heart, her imagination, her sense of the miraculous–everything her mother represented. However, the Snow Queen is definitely a heavy-hitting villain (the woman has a machine that sucks the life essence out of young girls), and the Marvelous Boy’s tale of his quest to find the hero who can defeat her has all the best fairy tale elements: predestination, a perilous journey, anthropomorphized animals, curses and boons, kings and wizards, and overwhelming odds. In the end, Ophelia’s shut-away heart and the key to the Snow Queen’s defeat are one and the same, tying both narrative threads into a beautiful and cathartic conclusion. A definite winner here, folks.
Foxlee is also the author of the YA novel The Midnight Dress, just out in October 2013, also from Knopf.
Recommend to: Ages 8-12, either gender, especially fantasy fans
To buy or not to buy: A must have.