ARC Review: West of the Moon - Margi Preus
After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic
hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent "goatman" in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? There isn't anything terribly exciting about the cover art; it actually made me think that it took place in Greece or Rome.
Characters: Astri is a girl with some serious spunk and quick wit. She doesn't keep what she's thinking to herself - even if it earns her a beating - and she's not hesitant to do what she needs to in order to protect her sister Greta. She has some moral conflict when she has to steal or lie or trick people, and she's quite certain that she's a wicked person and won't be going to Heaven. But poor Astri doesn't have much of a choice and she also doesn't really know any better. Also, the people she tricks and steals from aren't exactly angels of light, so I couldn't exactly frown at her. The other characters flit through this relatively short novel, leaving lasting impressions, but the Reader doesn't get much time to form a very complex opinion of them. Svaalberd, the goatman who buys Astri, is quite a horrid individual - constantly beating Astri and even trying to force her into a marriage so he can bed her. The people Astri and Greta meet on the ship to America are equal parts helpful and horrid.
The Romance: There isn't any!
Plot: Astri and her little sister Greta live with their uncaring aunt and uncle, left there by their father who went to America after their mother died. He intends to send money to them so they can come to America later, but it's slow in coming. Then Astri's aunt sells her to Svaalberd, the vicious goatman in the mountains. Her life looks bleak as she lives in filth and slaves away for the contemptible man. She comforts herself with fairy tales of girls whose futures turn golden, but no such luck seems to be heading her way. When Svaalberd gets it into his head to wed Astri, she knows her time is up, and she must run away and collect Greta so they can go to America to be with their father. But the road isn't easy, especially with Svaalberd pursuing them the entire way. This is part fairy tale retelling, part historical fiction - though mostly the latter. Astri talks a lot about familiar fairy tales, and West of the Moon is full of real-life parallels. Astri drips tallow on Svaalberd's nightshirt (East of the Sun, West of the Moon); Astri and Greta meet a lonely woman who is determined to keep them there (The Snow Queen); Astri at one point pretends she can comb gold out of her hair; et cetera. There is nothing fantastical about West of the Moon, but I actually enjoyed the Author making fairy tales come to life in a realistic setting. The book is too short for it to ever get boring, and Astri is so full of snark and intelligence that I had fun seeing how she was going to solve their next hurdle, for her solutions were always clever. Is there a definite plot? Sort of; Astri's main goal is to get to America, but there are a lot of side happenings.
Believability: No complaints.
Writing Style: First person, present tense. I didn't care for the present tense, but I enjoyed Astri's narration voice. I got to appreciate her humor and her struggles a lot more. There are moments of flashbacks, which are Italicized, but even so I found them to be abrupt and a little confusing at times.
Conclusion: It's actually quite open-ended, though reading the Author's Note more or less gives you a conclusion. I liked the open-endedness of it. There will be no sequel, but it didn't need it. Astri finally finds what she wanted (though she didn't know it was what she really wanted). I liked how everything came together in the end; how there were some rather surprising twists that I did not expect. West of the Moon is a unique fairy tale retelling in the sense that it's mostly historical fiction. There are a few . . . odd moments towards the end, though they can be dismissed as fevered dreams. But I enjoyed this short book; Astri totally made it worth reading.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, great for fans of historical fiction. It may appeal to some fairy tale retelling fans, but probably not as much because there's no magic.