Author: Brittney Ryan
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September 21, 2004
Page Count: 544
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fantasy
This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It has been out for ten years now and I read it every year at Christmas time. I am delighted to be able to do a review for it. From the very beginning, this story has me in tears, but they are tears of joy.
The book starts out in Victorian New York, 1878, in the very small home of a poor mother and son. You are only with them for a few moments, but there is so much love between the two that it melts your heart. The little boy was writing a letter to Santa, but because he felt he had everything he could possibly need or want, he didn't ask for anything for himself. He asked Santa what he wanted more than anything else in the world, not realizing how one simple question can change the world. And so begins the story of Holly Claus, Santa Claus's daughter.
Santa, Mrs. Claus, Holly, and so many other amazing characters live in The Land of the Immortals, the City of Forever. Holly is a very special girl, for she is the only being to have ever been born in this land, everyone else arriving there in different ways, some even after death.
The beginning of Holly's story reminds me slightly of Sleeping Beauty; everyone gave the little princess beautiful wonderful gifts except for the evil fairy, who gave her a curse. This story also has evil, but instead of a fairy, he is a horrible wizard, Herrikhan, cursed himself. The only way to break his curse is for him to possess the purest heart ever to be born, given to him freely. When Holly is born, he realizes exactly what she is and what she can do for him, so he in turn curses her. He imprisons her heart in ice, so that it can remain pure till she has fully grown and can be married to him. The curse also closes off the Land of the Immortals barring the gates to anyone wishing to enter or leave, trapping everyone there, except one night a year when Santa is able to deliver presents to the children of the world.
Because her heart is encased in ice, Holly cannot become overly warm or hot or the ice will melt and she will die, so she grows and lives in a world by herself, the temperature around her always wintery. As the princess of Forever grows up in her castle of snow and ice, she meets and befriends a wolf, a fox, a reindeer, an owl, and a penguin, all misfits in their own rights, never really fitting in. She is still loved by her family, but is kept away from the other inhabitants of their land. She receives mysterious gifts, like a telescope that lets her see other people and children in other lands always during happy moments. No one knows where these gifts come from, but are soon forgotten. Holly yearns to go and meet other people, to find where she belongs and to make a difference in others lives.
When Holly is older - I believe around 17 or 18 - she escapes one special night, days before Christmas, to New York, Empire City as she calls it. She meets many people, soon helping out at a toy shop, able to make special dolls for children, brightening so many lives. Herrikan follows Holly to New York, disguising himself, and tries to win her heart; but she has already fallen for the owner of the toy shop. They both have to fight for their love and change their beliefs before it's too late and Herrikan destroys Holly and everyone she loves.
There is so much more to the story than just that not so brief synopsis. Ryan shows you how just a little bit of compassion and love can save someone, change them forever. Not just romantic love, but the love of friendship, trust, understanding, compassion, forgiveness. She shows how it can go hand in hand with fear and how you have to let that fear go.
Every single character in this book is memorable, from the little boy's mother in the very beginning, to the man trudging across the arctic in pursuit of the magical land of Forever who in a sense is the start of the legend of Santa Claus, to the orphaned children living in Central Park that Holly meets. This book has you laughing at all the antics of the animals Holly befriends, crying over the hardships Holly sees in New York, but also crying with joy as love wins out and you see its effects on those touched by its magical kiss.
Ryan has an incredible ability at story telling, an enchanting voice that helps the reader to imagine it all. The illustrations by Laurel Long are gorgeous as well. You could spend hours staring at each picture and still not capture all the detail.
Though I purchased this book from the children's section, I don't like to classify it as such. It is a wonderful story for all ages. I am always recommending this book to friends, family, anyone interested in a beautiful story of love conquering evil.
Santa Claus is the King of Forever, Land of the Immortals. When one special boy writes to Santa asking what no other child has ever asked, a miracle occurs: Santa and Mrs. Claus are blessed with a daughter. But the birth of Holly Claus also brings about a terrible curse—from an evil soul named Herrikhan. Holly's heart is frozen, and the gates to Forever are locked, barring exit or entry.