Hoffman has created an adult fairy tale — the wish that brings death, the icy veneer that keeps suitors away, the lightning that imprints the surroundings onto the flesh of a young man, the magical midnight moment that leads to secrets being revealed, and the kiss of compassion that restores a life — but one that has a happy ever after for only some.
Hannah and her brother, Ned, were 8 and 12 respectively when their mother drove off on an icy January night to celebrate her 30th birthday with two friends. Hannah played the spoiled little princess — “queen of the universe” — who didn’t want her mother to go.
. . . she was already late, I made my wish. Right away, I could feel it burning. I could taste the bitterness of it; still I went ahead. I wished I would never see her again. I told her straight to her face. I wished she would disappear right there, right then.
But the wish hurt. Even before it came true, it hurt.
Hannah and Ned went to live with their grandmother. Where her brother was logical and leaned toward the sciences, Hannah was ruled by imagination. She remembered every detail about the night her mother disappeared. She became the ice queen. Astounded by the knowledge that wishes could come true, that words could destroy, Hannah became a quiet person, a reader of fairy tales, especially the Grimm ones; even her own silent fairy tale, a story of her own invention where the heroine is punished by “fate, by her family, even by the weather” became her own personal punishment. She was haunted by it. As a teenager, she engaged in sex but her heart remained closed. If anyone came close to caring, she ditched them.
Ned became a meteorologist and Hannah became a librarian. She became “a devotee of death”, an expert on the many various ways to die. She became obsessed with it and researched it continually. The police captain, Jack Lyons, often called her for information for cases he was involved in. They often had sex in his car in the parking lot until he showed up in the library one day with flowers. That ended that.
After their grandmother’s death, Ned decided Hannah should come to live in Orlon, Florida where he and his wife, Nina, both taught at Orlon University. He found her a rental home and a library job. Driving through a thunderstorm toward their destination, Hannah made another mistake. Used to being alone, she inadvertently made another wish out loud: [she] wished lightning would strike [her].
This is where the story of redemption begins. She is struck by lightning and meets other victims of similar disasters in a support group, and learns to reach beyond herself. She learns to empathize with others, learns to have compassion for others, and learns to become her real self. It is a story beautifully written, intricately designed, and full of surprises. The amazing thing about Hoffman books, is that not one resembles another. While The Dovekeepers remains my favourite, this story totally surprised me with its connections with magic, its understanding of complex relationships, and its revelations about obsessions and love. So often today, a chapter is merely headed with a number, but Hoffman’s chapter titles lead us through the story bit by golden bit. Hannah’s story is deceptive. At first, The Ice Queen is just an introspective look at an unfortunate childhood incident but it quickly becomes a gripping tale that won’t let you go until you turn the last page. * * * * *