The Snow Queen is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen" (obviously), with a great deal of other plot elements and SFnal trappings laid on top of it. The 150 Winter on Tiamat is ending, and with it, the reign of the Winter Queen Arienrhod. Arienrhod has kept herself alive and in power through all of Winter with her control over the mers, sea creatures on the planet whose blood imparts an elixir of immortality. But to keep the upcoming Summer from meaning the end of her life and her rule, she has created a clone, Moon, to be raised among the Summers, un-tech-savvy natives of the world.
Eh. I feel a bit bad, but I'm not quite sure why this is lauded as a modern SF classic. The world-building was solid, and I liked how everything tied together, I very much liked how Vinge followed the plot of the original Snow Queen story without making anything seem predictable, but there was some spark missing for me.
I think a lot of it might be because I disliked Moon. I get that she is good and holy and everything that's the opposite of the depraved and immoral Arienrhod, but I am so sick of this good/evil dichotomy, especially for women, and I am especially sick of it when there's a love triangle involved. I hate love triangles. Well, I hate love triangles when two people are in competition and there's rivalry involved, and boy is there rivalry here. And I was so incredibly sick of how everyone fell over backwards to help Moon because of her pure and shining goodness. Also, I'm really bored of depraved court stories. Either that, or, you know, the Snow Queen's court only seemed mildly depraved to me. To be fair, I read this after Holly Black and George R. R. Martin, both of whom have far, far more depraved courts than this. Vinge just never quite captured the feeling of a declining civilization and fin de siecle culture well enough for me.
Also, I am sick of good and beautiful sea creatures whose only purpose in life is for wisdom and nobility and truth and all that. Heck, don't these things prey on anything? What, do they only eat harmless shrimp or somesuch? They're like unicorns! Swimming unicorns! I mean... they are slaughtered by people so that their pure and innocent blood can grant immortality. Sure, there is a SF reason behind it, but the mythos remains the same.
I feel rather unfair being annoyed with the book. As far as I know, these things are only so common in SF because of Vinge's book. Well, except maybe the good/evil woman thing. For once, I'd like to see the female priestess equivalent from a relatively primitive culture be not holier and purer than the aging queen of a court, versed in manners and subtlety. Just once. Please?
Anyhow, it was a fast read, and I tore through it, which is saying something, but it's also left something of a bad taste in my mouth, largely because by the end of the book, I was extremely fond of Arienrhod, out of sheer orneriness, and rolling my eyes at Moon. I do this often when I feel like there's an authorial hand trying to make me like one character and dislike the other.
Oh wait. I had one more thing to be annoyed about. Why in the world is the Twu Wuv of Moon and Sparks so incredibly Twu and Good? They spend little time together in the book that I have no idea why each keeps searching for the other and why they feel so strongly toward each other. All I get at the beginning is this bitty scene, except that bitty scene already has Moon becoming a sibyll and separating from Sparks. They keep mooning after each other, but I got no sense at all that they really loved each other. I felt more like they did so as a plot point, or because they were so used to the idea of being in love with each other that they kept being in love with the idea, rather than the actual person. I wish so much that Vinge had done something more with the relationship rather than take it down the standard path, especially after it looked like she was going to do something.
But of course, Our Heroine and Our Hero must only love each other. Blech. I scrub the taste of bad romances out of my mouth (romances being the subplots or plots of books, not the actual genre). I detest romances that only serve to move the plot along, especially if it's One True Love.
Hrm, actually, the more I think about it, the more annoyed with the book I get!