It’s taken me an age to get around to reading Robbergirl – I was offered a copy to review by the author back in February during #reviewpit! – and I’m really regretting not reading it earlier, because it’s gorgeous!
Book: Robbergirl by ST Gibson
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by the author free of charge. All opinions my own.
Robbergirl is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, but focused on, and from the viewpoint of, the robber girl who first captures Gerda and then sets her free. Helvig is the daughter of the Robber King, and her friendship and budding relationship with Gerda is what drives this gorgeous story. There are changes to the original story, some necessary (Kai becomes Gerda’s brother, instead of a love interest), and some wholly original and full of heartache (the origin of the Snow Queen herself, for instance, which I won’t spoil). Though it ties beautifully to the source story, it absolutely stands on its own two feet, and I don’t think you’d need any familiarity with The Snow Queen to enjoy this for its own merits.
Also, it’s really gay! Though no on-page labels are used, both Gerda and Helvig have had relationships with women in the past, and while Gerda is far more comfortable with her sexuality than Helvig, it’s very clear that both are undeniably attracted to women. The two of them complement each other so well, and help each other so much – when we meet them, Gerda is single-mindedly determined to rescue her brother and sick of feeling powerless, and Helvig is dedicated to her position in the robber gang and hiding a lot of emotional hurt. It takes meeting, and falling in love, to show them that they each have their own power and strength – they both have such excellent internal journeys.
The first 60% or so is dedicated to the slow burn of Helvig and Gerda’s relationship, as they come to first like, then trust, then love each other. I loved it! You’d think it would be slow to have two characters sitting in a camp getting to know one another over the darkest days of winter, but the honesty of the writing and the wintry atmosphere make watching the two of them open up really compelling. The writing is dark and moody (though given recent discussions unrelated to this book, I should clarify that ‘dark’ here does not mean that it’s violent, just that it’s thoughtful and mysterious and powerful, like being alone in the woods at twilight) and perfectly captures the spirit of the original fairy tale. I read it during a storm, and it set the mood wonderfully!
The power of storytelling is a real theme throughout Robbergirl, and there are several stories told by characters that are pivotal in the girls’ understanding of each other and in our understanding of the girls and their world. Stories have real power in a world where ghosts move and witches walk the woods, and the inset tales help to highlight that narrow, moveable barrier between fairytale, folklore, and half-forgotten history. They also help to create a sense of camaraderie, or even family, between the members of the robber camp – you get the sense that all these characters have seen a lot in their time, and there could easily be a book about all of them. I loved Helvig’s father, King Berthold, and I want to know how he became King and gained the loyalty of each of his crew… Though I don’t think anything was set up specifically for a sequel or a spin-off, it’s a sign of a good book if you can imagine that it tells only one story from a vivid world.
You know I love f/f fantasy, stories about stories, and girls finding their own power, so it should be no surprise that I loved this. Those who loved The Bear and the Nightingale or Spinning Silver should absolutely read this beautiful, wintry, emotionally-charged tale. I liked it better than both! Five out of five cats from me.