Note: I received a copy of Robbergirl from the author in exchange for a book review.
In a Sweden wracked by war and haunted by folk stories so dark they can only be spoken of in whispers, Helvig has been raised by her brigand father to steal whatever treasure catches her eye. When her men ambush a girl on the road with hair pale as death and a raven perched on her shoulder, Helvig cannot resist bringing home a truly unique prize: a genuine witch.
Drawn irresistibly into the other woman’s web, Helvig soon learns of Gerda’s reason for walking the icy border roads alone: to find the Queen who lives at the top of the world and kill her. Anyone else would be smart enough not to believe a children’s story, but Helvig is plagued by enchantments of her own, and she struggles to guard the sins of her past while growing closer to Gerda.
As Christmastide gives way to the thin-veiled days when ghosts are at their most vengeful, the two women find themselves on a journey through forest and Samiland to a final confrontation that will either redeem them or destroy them entirely.
It’s DEATHLESS meets OF FIRE AND STARS in this coming of age fable.
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
I’m sort of in love with fairy tales.
This is not a surprise to most of you. After all, I’m a Disney fangirl, and I have more fairy tale retellings on my bookshelf and to-read list than I can count.
Despite my love for once-upon-a-times and happy endings, I am not that familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The only adaptation I know of is Disney’s Frozen (which, like most Disney films, is very loosely based on the original story). Robbergirl has given me a new love and respect for “The Snow Queen,” and certainly set the bar high for any future retellings I may read.
“All fairy stories start with some terrible, exceptional truth, and that’s the teeth of the thing. That’s the bit that sinks into people and makes it so they never forget.”
Robbergirl tells the story of the Helvig, a girl raised on thieving, and Gerda, an alleged witch who has one goal: kill the Snow Queen. Helvig is at simultaneously skeptical and fascinated by Gerda’s claims, and essentially holds her hostage in the robbers’ encampment. “We’ll present her properly before the Robber King as a spoil,” Helvig says, “And he can decide how to best employ her.”
Luckily for Helvig, The Robber King lets the witch stay.
Eventually, the two girls become good friends–and, like all good fairy tales, romance ensues. Helvig starts to open up about another girl who broke her heart. Gerda admits that The Snow Queen kidnapped her brother Kai. There is a tenderness and honesty to their relationship that I seldom find in fairy tale retellings; S.T. Gibson is not afraid to be raw and angry, but those scenes do not distract from aching softness or giddy butterflies.
“I would follow you down to death if you asked me, just to make sure the Devil didn’t have his way with you.”
What I enjoyed most about Robbergirl is that at its heart, it is more than a romance: it is a love story. There is love between Helvig and Gerda, of course, but there is also the love of a father and daughter; the love between friends; and the love between siblings. There is a selfless kind of love that shines through every chapter.
Additionally, the fact that this is an LGBTQIA+ story can not be understated. I have only read one sapphic fairy tale retelling (Ash by Malinda Lo), and Robbergirl made me hungry for more. It’s a happy story, which is not often one queer readers get the chance to hear. Helvig’s attraction to women causes her some anxiety, but overall, it is cast in a positive and affirming light. Similarly, Gerda openly and confidently admits her attraction to women. It’s refreshing to read an LGBTQIA+ book in which coming out or tragedy is not the backbone of the plot. Their love simply is, and it’s a beautiful thing.
If Gibson’s Odd Spirits was like literary dark chocolate, Robbergirl is a hot mug of hot chocolate on a winter’s night. It warmed me from head to toe, and I cannot wait for my next cup.