Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: If she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.
In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear, and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up, otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever.Goodreads Overview
Resonant, Enchanting, and Altogether Inspiring
As I said in my review for Uprooted, I love fairytale-like stories that take place in an enchanted wood. I also have a soft spot for books that create new and beautiful possible ways to read books. Luckily, Echo North has both of these things and more! I picked this book up by accident while perusing a locally owned bookstore in Salt Lake City. I read it twice in a row so I could inhale as much of its magic as I possibly could.
This story is based on the Nordic fairytale East of the Sun West of the Moon. It has some similarities to other tales like Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche but varies mid-story from saving a beast in a castle to the main girl embarking on a redemptive quest. Joanna Ruth Meyer gave special credit to Edith Patou’s novel East as one of her inspirations for writing her retelling of this famous Nordic tale. As I read Echo North, I noticed reverberating themes from the original fairytale, but Meyer surprised me with her creativity and beautiful innovations.
Meyer’s writing style is simply beautiful. Echo North sucked me in from the first sentence. To keep balance between interlocking plot twists and settings, she anchored her story on reoccurring imagery and themes. It felt like every sentence and conversation served a purpose to the story’s mystery and resolution. The story also flowed so well. I never felt bogged down by unnecessary dialogue or drama.
It was the kind of story which lifted me on its shoulders and carried me on a magical and touching journey. The scenery Meyer illustrated throughout her story, from the forest, woven house, and in the North, set my imagination aflame. The library of mirror books alone made me want to step into the story! I will say, I have never thought of a forest being so sinister until this book.
Another side note, I also loved how Meyer wove in music and playing the piano into the narrative.
I loved all the characters down to the main villain of the story. Echo had so much love and compassion. I admired her integrity and desire to help those she loved. It is ironic because rather than being a character fated to be loved by everyone, people bullied and mocked her because of her facial deformity. It took a long time for her to see beyond her scars and accept her family’s love and confidence.
I can’t say too much about the characters because it will ruin the overall experience. I will say, I appreciated how the man Echo comes to love and marry was someone with flaws. Forgiveness and compassion also play an important part in their relationship and growth. All the characters also had understandable motivations and reactions. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve read plenty of fairytale retellings whose characters make strangely nonsensical decisions.
Who is this book for?
Fans of novels like Edith Patou’s East, Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander, or Beauty and the Beast retellings will most likely connect to this book the best. Music and book lovers will also love how Meyer included richer ways to experience these arts. (I now want to experience a book mirror. Someone smart should make that happen for me).
Light streamed in through the window; dust motes swirled. The wolf leaned his head against my knee. ‘I do not deserve you. Your kindness. Your goodness. Your beauty.’
‘Wolf, I’m not beautiful.’
He lifted his head and peered straight into my eyes. ‘You are wrong, Echo. You are the most beautiful person I have ever seen.’
Something inside me cracked. Tears leaked from my eyes.
The wolf tugged gently on my skirt and I knelt on the floor and wrapped my arms around his neck. ‘Do not cry. My beautiful beautiful girl. Please do not cry.’
I held him like the world had spun away beneath me, and I was left to dance with the stars, not mortal any longer but a creature made of moonlight and magic.
No one had ever called me beautiful before.
‘It isn’t about deserving, (Blank Name). It never was.’ I long to pull him close. I ache for him. ‘The old magic is stronger than guilt or betrayal. Stronger than everything she did to you, and to me. It’s stronger than time.’
‘Is it . . . is it strong enough to mend us?’ His eyes pierce through me.
I touch his face where the oil burned him, where a tiny half-moon scar shows white against his skin. ‘Yes.’ My throat catches. ‘It is. It is.’