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SPOILER ALERT: Yes, already. But for the movie. I’m assuming this warning isn’t really needed, but here it is anyway.
A Frozen Heart alternates point of view chapter by chapter between Anna and Hans, so it’s clear from the beginning that Hans isn’t exactly your typical Disney prince. We get to really see the story from their perspectives, with lots of backstory and motivations and internal monologue that the movie didn’t go into. It adds depth to both characters while never making them not the characters from the movie.
I really liked A Frozen Heart because it explores a lot of the questions I had about the movie—what Hans’ deal is, why the love Olaf shows for Anna isn’t enough to break the spell, etc. I recognized a lot of dialogue and I frequently had songs from the movie going through my head. This works very well as a companion to the movie, because it never shows anything from Kristoff’s or Elsa’s point of view—I’m not sure whether it would be hard to follow if you weren’t already familiar with the movie.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The novel follows the movie faithfully, so there aren’t really a lot of actual spoilers. But there are still a few things you might want to know.
Anna’s parents love each other very much and they communicate well with each other. We don’t see their questionable handling of the Elsa situation because we only see things that Anna knows. They die off screen and we don’t even see any of the immediate aftermath. The story picks up 3 years later. Anna often thinks about how things might have been different if her parents didn’t die.
Elsa is, of course, very distant from Anna. It takes a long time for Anna to understand that this is because Elsa does love her, rather than a lack of emotion. Elsa is less easy to understand in the novel than she is in the movie because we only see Anna’s point of view, and her sister is a mystery to her.
Hans is the youngest of 13 sons. His brothers and his father all bully him. Things go best for him when no one is paying attention to him. Once he decides that the most advantageous thing for him to do is to marry the young queen of Arendelle, he does everything his father asks of him, trying to ingratiate himself so he’ll be allowed to go to the coronation. His father is harsh and mean, his brothers are selfish and mean, and his mother is ineffectual. Of course, as Anna herself points out, we really only have Hans’ perspective on this. Perhaps in reality his family isn’t so awful.
Kristoff’s family is unusual but loving. Olaf talks a bit about family and how close friends can be family.
A lot of the focus of the book is defining what love is. Anna is desperate to be loved, but she isn’t sure what love even looks like. As we all know, what she thinks is love with Hans is anything but. Elsa shows her love for her sister in exactly the way Anna doesn’t want her to, which leads to a lot of the conflict between the sisters—only when they open up to each other do they realize how much they’re each loved. Olaf is an example of unconditional and sacrificial love, and he waxes poetic about it a bit. Kristoff starts off as a friend, and Anna needs Olaf to help her see that Kristoff really loves her and that she loves him and perhaps it’s more than just a friendly kind of love.
Kristoff’s troll mom talks about love and how it should feel. She discusses different kinds of love, including the love that family feels for each other. She mentions that things that feel like love can be dangerous and painful. As she talks, Anna starts to doubt that what she feels for Hans is really love.
Love is magic, perhaps the most powerful of magic. To Hans, though, love is a sign of weakness, a thing to be exploited. Anna feels many kinds of love at the end, and each strengthens her in its way—she needs true love to cure her freezing, and her love for Arendelle helps her, Olaf’s love for her helps her make a temporary recovery that plays a role in saving her life, her realization that Kristoff loves her gives her strength, and then it’s her sister’s love for her and her love for her sister . The act of true love that saves the day in the end and that breaks the spell is Anna’s sacrifice of love for Elsa. Love is a powerful thing, and it’s so much more than thinking a boy is funny and cute.
Hans is an amazing manipulator, and it’s totally calculated. He’s always figuring out how to get what he wants from people and he’s really good at it. It makes him heartless, because people are only a means to an end. At least from his perspective, his bullying family has left this as his only survival mechanism. He plays a long game, planning his marriage to Elsa for years. When Anna looks like the more likely path to getting what he wants, he changes gears slightly. He doesn’t hesitate to lie and bribe. He needs Elsa to look like a monster so no one questions it when he kills her, so he does everything he can to play into that narrative. He consciously mirrors people, showing them what he thinks they want to see. He sees no reason to use violence if you can use other methods of getting people to do what you want. He’s a master of reading people and he nearly gets everything he’s aiming for.
Hans is willing to resort to violence if necessary—he intends to kill both sisters because that’s the easiest way to get the throne—but he doesn’t actively kill Anna, for instance, because he thinks time will take care of that. He fully intends to kill Elsa, though.
When Hans is working for his father early in the book, it’s made clear that he does some really awful things that make him uncomfortable, but it puts him in his dad’s good graces. We never know exactly what he does to the people who can’t pay their taxes, and somehow that kinda makes it worse because I can imagine some pretty awful stuff.
Elsa hurts her sister a few times—two ice blasts, an abominable snowman, etc.—but it’s loss of control rather than maliciousness. As Anna slowly freezes to death, it gets a little graphic, and this goes on for a while.
Hans’ mother apparently drinks a lot of wine to cope with how things are in her home. His oldest brother’s wife also eyes up her wine glass, but she’s pregnant and chooses not to drink.
Hans says “good god” and “god forsaken.”
I know that Frozen has fans of many ages. This book is specifically aimed at older fans who would appreciate some additional emotional depth to the story. It’s nearly 300 pages with lots of introspection, so it’s definitely not a novel tie-in for newly independent readers. It seems perfect for older tweens who have seen Frozen and may be starting to wonder for themselves what love is really like.
Disclosure: the publisher provided with a review copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick
Published in 2015 by Disney Press
Read the hard cover version