The Veil of Snows

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"Long ago, in the time of the old emperor, I was young and just beginning in my profession. The Usurper was there, and one could not escape his evil presence.... An enthralling story in the time-honored tradition of Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis. Although her kingdom has lived in peace for many years, the queen has always feared the day the Usurper would return to plunge her city into darkness. Even as she rejoices in the birth of her first child, she sees signs of impending danger. Her husband and his army have vanished in the wilderness. With
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"Long ago, in the time of the old emperor, I was young and just beginning in my profession. The Usurper was there, and one could not escape his evil presence.... An enthralling story in the time-honored tradition of Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis. Although her kingdom has lived in peace for many years, the queen has always feared the day the Usurper would return to plunge her city into darkness. Even as she rejoices in the birth of her first child, she sees signs of impending danger. Her husband and his army have vanished in the wilderness. With only a short time left to reinforce the kingdom's defense, her faithful general masterminds a strategy to keep the city safe, against great odds. But even when the Usurper's victory may seem to be complete, the mysterious veil of snows hides a symbol of undying hope. The Veil of Snows is a moving and powerful tale about the light of the human spirit,light that can never be wholly extinguished. The Veil of Snows, which stands on its own as a compelling story, also completes the Helprin/Van Allsburg trilogy that began with their first collaboration, Swan Lake, which Publishers Weekly called "elegant and beautiful...wise and musical." As Kirkus noted in a pointered review of A City in Winter, the second book, "The sheer scale of the city [Helprin] envisions will enthrall readers of any age...." Mark Helprin is the acclaimed author of books for adults and children, including A Soldier of the Great War and the best-selling Winter's Tale (both Harcourt). He lives in New York state. Chris Van Allsburg is a two-time Caldecott winner, for Jumanji and The Polar Express (both Houghton).
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This pseudo-poetic fantasy is the third in Helprin and Caldecott winner Van Allsburg's trilogy that began with Swan Lake. It continues the saga of an unnamed queen defending her country against the evil Usurper, but shows only brief glimpses of the savvy humor of A City in Winter. The narrator here is an unnamed former torture victim who has been promoted to knight and chief strategist for the queen. Members of the perfidious Tookesheim family, fawning helpmates to the Usurper in the previous book, have now corrupted the queen's empire. Once the Usurper begins a fresh assault on the kingdom, the rest is warand tragedy ensues. The queen's logic becomes tangled to the point of being laughable: for example, after insisting her men carry a wounded soldier with them (which understandably slows their escape), she is "astonished" to find the troop travels more slowly than they would have otherwise. A mute, starving child is rescued and extravagantly nurtured by the queen, then never mentioned again. Throughout, profound yet impenetrable bits of wisdom are doled out by the narrator. Referring to the queen's potential separation from her infant son, he intones: "The saddest thing in the world was for a parent to have his child loosed upon the wing...." The lavish volume features a few richly magical paintings that rank among Van Allsburg's best work: red trees being lifted up by pulleys to the top of a castle, cattle catapulted through the air. Only these make the book worthwhile. All ages. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Trina Heidt
As the Queen enjoys the birth of her first son, she also begins to sense that the kingdom she has fought her entire life to regain and protect is once again in danger of falling, as it has before, to the evil Usurper. With her husband away beyond the Veil of Snows, fighting his own battles and seemingly lost to her, she is left to defend her kingdom and secure their son's safety. With the help of her loyal staff of Generals, a brilliant plan is set into motion that holds off the attackers for a brief period of time. When the kingdom is finally overrun by the Usurper's armies and victory seems undeniable, a symbol of the queen's courage and the kingdom's hope escapes and is sheltered behind the Veil of Snows. Once again, Helprin and Van Allsburg have joined forces to keep alive the majestic kingdom and fascinating characters that were introduced in Swan Lake and carried on in the second book, A City in Winter. The third book in a beautiful trilogy, The Veil of Snows is eloquently written and grandly illustrated by two masters of their trades.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8--This sequel begins some years after A City in Winter Viking, 1996 ended. The queen, now a young woman, worries over the fate of her missing husband and watches in dismay as her kingdom is distracted and corrupted by the foolish games and amusements of the vulgar Tookisheims, a large and powerful family of Usurper supporters. After his defeat, the Usurper disappeared into the Veil of Snows, the far distant and icy mountains, and now the queen's husband has disappeared while leading an army in the same area. All signs point to the Usurper's return, and this is in fact what happens. Once again, full-page color paintings illustrate pivotal moments in the story but with one jarring note--the text specifically describes how the queen's hair had darkened from its youthful golden to a dark chesnut color, but the illustrations still show her with shimmering golden hair. The Veil of Snows is unremittingly sad, as it is told decades after the events in question by a loyal soldier who loved and guarded the queen until her untimely death at the hands of enemy soldiers. However, it ends with a ray of hope, and a definite need for a sequel, when the narrator, as an old man, sees the queen's husband and son, now fully grown, riding together at the head of a vast army descending at last from the Veil of Snows. This poignant and sophisticated fairy tale will appeal to those who enjoyed A City in Winter, and will create demand for a sequel to complete the story.--Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA
Kirkus Reviews
The distinguished collaborators polish off a trilogy that began with Swan Lake (1989) and continued in A City in Winter (1996).

Polish is the operative word; Helprin's unnamed narrator illuminates this dark, poignant story with characteristically refulgent prose, to which Van Allsburg's 13 color scenes of theatrically posed, golden-toned figures add sparkling elegance. A troubled peace follows the usurper's flight behind the remote Veil of Snows, and he soon returns to shatter the Queen's army, kill her husband (seemingly), and oppose her and her infant son with two million men. After a bitter siege, the Queen and her last 100,000 loyal followers escape the capital city and disperse into the mountains, where she is pursued and killed. Helprin injects a garishly satiric hue into this tale by filling it with corpulent, venial, opportunistic Tookisheims, a family whose government is headed by the Duke, a media mogul whose papers are relentlessly critical of the Queen, and Branco, who "makes the talking boxes that take the place of books." After 25 years of waiting beside the Veil, the narrator symbolically casts away the last of his hopeā€”just as the Queen's husband and grown son march out of the mists at the head of a new army. As with the previous books, the language, imagery, and wit are aimed at sophisticated sensibilities; Helprin's bottomless imagination and Van Allsburg's monumental visual style create a collaboration that glitters with star quality.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670874910
  • Publisher: Viking Children's Books
  • Publication date: 10/1/1997
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 4.87 (w) x 7.56 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Helprin
Mark Helprin
A conservative commentator who has served in the Israeli army may not seem the likeliest source of whimsy, but Mark Helprin's tales are written from the soul of a poet. Soldiers and burglars figure prominently in his work, but the stories are not tales of intrigue; they focus more on love, morality and far-flung travels.


Mark Helprin, a novelist, is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. He is also a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and a fellow of the American Academy in Rome. In 1996 he served as a foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Bob Dole.

His books include A Dove of the East & Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Ellis Island & Other Stories, Winter's Tale, Swan Lake, A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir From Antproof Case, A City in Winter, and The Veil of Snows.

Mr. Helprin was raised on the Hudson and in the British West Indies. He has degrees from Harvard College and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Author biography from The Wall Street Journal.

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    1. Hometown:
      Upstate New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 28, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      A.B., Harvard University, 1969; A.M., 1972. Postgraduate study at Oxford University, 1976-77.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2002

    Mystical, Magical and Polished

    The Veil of Snows completes the trilogy that began with Swan Lake and A City in Winter. Helprin readers will immediately notice familiar themes: the magical use of ice, snow and cold to create a mythical landscape where anything can, and does, happen; the power of good over evil; and the polished and sophisticated prose of Mark Helprin. The Veil of Snows is narrated by a singer of tales and we first encounter him as an elderly man fetching water from a mountain stream near the magical Veil of Snows that divides the world as we know it from the world of unknown shadows. The story takes place in a faraway, timeless kingdom in which a beautiful and righteous Queen must struggle against the forces of an evil usurper. The Queen, who has spent most of her life struggling against the usurper, is a woman of deep empathy and an utter lack of pretension. Her reign has been marked by a deep and heartfelt concern for the liberty and freedom of her subjects although she has been vigorously opposed by the Duke of Tookisheim and his repugnant relatives. The Tookisheims represent all that is base and crass in human nature just as the Queen and the narrator represent all that is noble and good. The Tookisheims are reminiscent of Faulkner's Snopes clan and are comprised of offbeat characters with equally offbeat names. When the Queen interrupts a dinner party at the Tookisheim estate to rescue a small girl, matters boil over and open rebellion ensues. The Tookishiems, the Queen, her husband, the usurper and the narrator all become involved in battle with varying degrees of success and failure. Helprin takes us for an emotional rollercoaster ride as things look first hopeful, then hopeless, then hopeful once again for the virtuous Queen. Of course, we do know the narrator, himself, survives and as he tells us this, his last and greatest tale, we slowly learn the fate of the other characters in the book. Even more surprisingly we see, through the narrator's own eyes, the unfolding of a special event for which he has unknowingly been waiting all these years. Anyone who enjoys Mark Helprin will find The Veil of Snows a magical and glorious tale. It is truly a literary treat and the illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg complement Helprin's prose most wonderfully. Although this book may seem like a fairy tale it is definitely a fairy tale for adults to enjoy and appreciate. There are some scenes of violence that are definitely not appropriate for young children and the complexity of Helprin's style and imagery might even be too challenging for teenagers as well. This is, however, a book of timeless love and uncompromising beauty that most adults would cherish.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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