Review: A Bear's Bride

Of all the samples I read from the six authors who attended the Entwined Tales Launch Party, I liked the works of Shari Tapscott the least. Therefore, it did not come as much of a surprise that A Bear's Bride was my least favorite book in the Entwined Tales series. "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", the story it was based on, is an obscure and somewhat odd Norwegian fairy tale about a girl who gets engaged to a polar bear who turns human at night, but she is never allowed to see him in human form. It has rather loose morals compared to the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm in which characters usually get rewarded for doing good deeds and punished for doing bad. The heroine clearly defies the wishes of her betrothed but still defeats the witch who cursed him and gets her happy ending. The fairy tale was turned into a live-action movie in 1991 called The Polar Bear King, and it is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. Everything from the acting to the story changes were just horrendous, especially the disturbing concept that the heroine somehow had multiple children with her polar bear lover while he was in his human form without ever having seen his face during their, er, conception. What the heck? Anyway, back to Shari Tapscott's version.

A Bear's Bride was a short, choppy, and mostly harmless adaptation of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," featuring Sophie, the third oldest daughter of the fairy godfather-cursed family. The ending of An Unnatural Beanstalk in which Eva was worried that Sophie would do something rash upon learning that her father wanted to marry her off to a boring farmer led straight into the beginning of this book. In An Unnatural Beanstalk, Sophie was said to have a reputation of calling upon Mortimer, her family's bumbling fairy godfather, far more than any of her siblings. She follows suit by immediately asking him to help her get out of her arranged marriage. He transports her to the castle of a prince named Henri who gets along with her immediately, and they get married. Considering how many problems Mortimer's gifts cause Sophie's siblings in the other books, this one did a pretty sloppy job of incorporating his character. His magic never actually ends up harming Sophie, as the troll queen is the sole cause of all of her and Henri's problems.

The biggest issue I had with A Bear's Bride is its pacing. It's very sloppy. I might have forgiven it if it was one of the longer books in the series and the author wanted to keep it at novella length, but it's actually the shortest next to A Goose Girl, which was paced much better. It is also the only one that ended with a sample chapter of one of the author's other works that was completely unrelated to Entwined Tales, which felt a little self indulgent to me. The worst pacing problem is that Sophie and Henri got married less than halfway through the book, so it felt like there was absolutely no buildup to their relationship. Unlike the fairy tale, she didn't even see him as a polar bear until a decent amount of time after their wedding, which seemed weak because she already knew how handsome he was by then. You wouldn't have Beauty meet the Beast as a prince and then have him tell her "Oh, by the way, I turn into this monster sometimes, but you don't have to look at me when I'm like that because I know you like me better like this." Yet, that's exactly what this book does. Sophie already has her handsome prince and she just looks at him in his bear form later out of sheer curiosity.

I will say that the book's one saving grace is Princess Ambrosia, the daughter of the troll queen who punishes Sophie for the unforgivable crime of kissing her own husband. It hadn't even been established at that point that they had never kissed until it became part of the plot. Ambrosia was Henri's reluctant bride and captor who was all too willing to help Sophie save him from her mother's wrath because she had no desire to marry him. She was a very comedic character, much like Davina from A Goose Girl and Rapunzel from An Inconvenient Princess, causing this book to fit the tone of the series better than An Unnatural Beanstalk, despite not being written as well. It was a lot of fun reading about Ambrosia's antics to get out of her arranged marriage without particularly caring about Sophie's well-being in the process. She was fun and hilarious, and I think the book would have been a lot more interesting if it had been told from her perspective. Her mother, Amara, was a pretty bland villain, but Ambrosia made it all worthwhile.

Even though A Bear's Bride was my least favorite of the Entwined Tales, I wouldn't say it was an unpleasant read. It was just bland and held little substance. It kept up with the tone of the overall series, despite working with an unpopular fairy tale and making little use of Mortimer's bumbling. It could have been more enjoyable if the pacing were better and it had stayed closer to the source material with Sophie not knowing what Henri looked like as a man. I would only recommend this book to hardcore fairy tale fanatics or completionists who want to read every book in the Entwined Tales series. Otherwise, it's safe to skip over this one.


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