Review: Familiar Fantasy Themes Abound In Dina Norlund’s ‘The Snowcat Prince’
by Richard Bruton
Dina Norlund’s ‘The Snowcat Prince’ blends European folklore and fairy tales with modern, super-bright Pixar-ish in a story that looks to provide readers of all ages with something that’s never particularly surprising or original but is always highly enjoyable.
For fantasy readers, think of it as a comfort blanket of the familiar, something to relax into and enjoy. But for younger fantasy readers, the lush artwork and multi-layered characters and plots will form a worthwhile introduction to a genre they’ll come to love.
Part European folk tale, part Disney/Pixar movie in waiting, Dina Norland’s The Snowcat Prince gives a comfortably familiar fantasy tale a new and enjoyable spin.
Originally released in Norway, The Snowcat Prince definitely has a sense of a European folk tale, what with its overarching storyline of betrayals and family intrigues, but there’s also that modern sheen to it all, with what feels just like a Disneyfication of the characters, where the good guys are all cute and lovely and the bad guys all sharp angles, that sort of thing – and it doesn’t necessarily help that Norland’s art makes this one look very much like a very chilly Lion King.
Anyway, it’s a familiarly simple tale, a quest to recover a lost treasure of a kingdom, that sort of thing, with the additional layers of somewhat deeper characterisation involved with the question of familial jealousies and infighting, betrayal, as well as an undercurrent of prejudice and discrimination.
However, there’s such a charm to this all-ages tale that means that, coupled with Norland’s lovely visuals, the familiarity just becomes a comfortable thing and it becomes a very easy story to relax into and enjoy.
The story itself begins with a fantastical recap, as a father tells his young snowcat son a tale of myth and legend, of the Eldking snowcat, a powerful giant of a ruler who protects his Kingdom “from everything cold and evil,’ with his aura so powerful it could ‘split a mountain in two and warm the city with the love in his heart.”
But every hero needs a villain and here it comes from the Sandfoxes, looking to steal the Eldking’s powers, their bad aura slowly invading the kingdom, making winters colder and longer. To stop their encroachment, the Eldking has a crown forged from the very heart of the mountain, an object of power that was stolen by the Sandfoxes, who placed a curse on all snowcats, marking them with three stripes when they betray their honour.
Since that time, the Eldking and the crown are missing, the lands have gone cold, the snowcats have lost the power to forge with their auras, and every snowcat who has tried to find the crown have ended up cursed with the three black stripes and exiled.
So there you have it, a mythic introduction that not only sets up the storyline but gives you and indicator of just what will happen – and once things get going, it definitely follows that same familiar ground for this sort of fairy story – King dies, siblings line up for succession, out on a quest, secrets discovered, shocks that what was preached as myth and legend turns out to be false, child grows and matures to take their rightful place.
But there’s also plenty to appreciate in Norland’s storytelling that adds an awful lot to the tale. For example, very early on, as Syv, the youngest of the brothers, wanders out into the city following the death of the King, we’re shown so much, the poverty and cold of the city, and most importantly how Syv is seen as different from the ruling Snowcats, who are simply seen as taking gold.
It’s the first sign that everything is not as honourable and glorious as the mythology intro leads you to believe and Norland’s artwork contains a lot to show us all that… the side eye from the villagers, the cold, the rags…
Anyway, seeing Syv’s popularity, the good-for-nothing, greedy, self-centered brothers conspire to send him away on a quest for the crown, figuring he’ll never make it back. Again, Norlund’s fine cartooning in portraying the brothers as unique characters, each one seemingly showing their own individual nasty streak in just a few pages here.
As Syv heads out into the big, bad world, the quest goes pretty much as you’d expect, he gains a traveling companion in Kit, red of hair and, wouldn’t you know it, another who comes complete with secrets of her own. And as the quest goes on, he’s confronted with the fact that all is not rosy in the kingdom his father ruled over, not only do we see how far the poisoning of the land has gone but we also see just how the people view their rulers.
What happens after that is the typical quest mixed with a good deal of the well-used device of the hero discovering that all is really not as they thought and suddenly having to get used to the reality of the world, a far cry from what Syv thought. I’m sure you can imagine exactly where the plot goes.
But, as I keep saying, even though it’s a tale where there aren’t a load of surprises to be found, particularly if fantasy is your thing, and where you’ll most likely know almost every story beat that will be hit all the way through, it’s still not a disappointment, as Norland’s skills at giving you something that’s entertaining and so familiar are more than enough to allow you to settle back and appreciate this for what it is – a hugely enjoyable fantasy with joint nods to the world of darker European folklore and fantasy and the bright, colourful stuff of Disney/PIxar.
However, that’s all written with the viewpoint of an adult reader, familiar with fantasy tales, recognising them all here, having read enough to see just where The Snowcat Prince will go. But in viewing it as a first-time fantasy reader, a young reader, well this is nothing less than a glorious introduction to a genre, packed with character and multi-layered storytelling.
We all have to start somewhere and The Snowcat Prince may well be an excellent introduction to a world of fantasy for some lucky young reader.
The Snowcat Prince is out now from Oni Press.
In Memoriam: Dina Norlund (1995 – 2023)
Tragically, just a day after penning this review back in March, I heard the news that Dina Norlund died of cancer at the age of 27. Her death was reported by Norweigan media the week before.
As well as The Snowcat Prince, Norlund’s work included including Wild, Sprout, Greylegs, and Fern & The Moon Rabbit. Born in Oslo in 1995, she began her professional, full-time comics career in 2018 but had been self-publishing before that. Indeed, Snokattprinsen/The Snowcat Prince was originally self-published but attracted the attention of Egmont who released it in 2021, with Oni Press subsequently releasing it in English in 2023, shortly after Norlund’s death.
Oni Press announced the tragic death with a pledge donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of The Snowcat Prince to the Norwegian children’s organisation Sykehusklovnene in Dina’s honor.
In the announcement, Oni Press editor Grace Scheipeter said. ‘Dina was an incredibly talented artist and storyteller. She was such a joy and inspiration to work with, and her passing is a heartbreaking loss. I know her work will continue to inspire young artists, authors, and readers the same way it will inspire me for years to come.’
We send our condolences to Norlund’s family, friends, and colleagues, and encourage you all to get yourself checked up and also to think about donating to the many cancer charities that are out there.