Every year since 1904, when the ice breaks up on the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton has crowned a Melting Queen—a woman who presides over the Melting Day spring carnival and who must keep the city’s spirits up over the following winter. But this year, something has changed: a genderfluid ex-frat brother called River Runson is named as Melting Queen. As River's reign upends the city's century-old traditions, Edmonton tears itself in two, with progressive and reactionary factions fighting a war for Edmonton's soul. Ultimately, River must uncover the hidden history of Melting Day, forcing Edmonton to confront the dark underbelly of its traditions and leading the city into a new chapter in its history.
Balancing satire with compassion, Bruce Cinnamon’s debut novel combines history and magic to weave a splendid future-looking tale.
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"But wait, Magpie," says Mary Cone, the Carnaval peacock. "Isn't there someone who can make sure we don't forget this day?"
"Yeah," chimes in Cherry Poppins, the prim governess. "Isn't there someone who keeps the spirit of this special day alive, all throughout the year? Well?" She looks at the kids. "Isn't there?"
"Yeah!" shout the kids.
"Who?" asks Magpie innocently.
"The Melting Queen!" five hundred people shout in unison.
"Of course!" cries Magpie, smacking her forehead theatrically, "I forgot to tell you about the Melting Queen, and she's the most important part! Mary, Cherry, why don't you tell the kids about the Melting Queen?"
Magpie retreats to the back of the stage and her two back-up queens shuffle forward to take up the story.
"Those eight thousand people knew that if they did nothing, then they might forget the true freedom, the happy anarchy they felt on this day," says Mary Cone.
"So they held a grand council on the riverbank, beneath the sizzling northern lights overhead, which had come to bless them all," says Cherry Poppins.
"They started arguing about the best way to preserve this special springtime spirit, and soon they weren't happy anymore, they were mad!" says Mary, turning towards Cherry, shaking her feathers with rage. "They were fighting and dividing back into their old groups, forgetting the merriment of their unity."
"It looked as though this glorious festival would die, and never come again," says Cherry, facing down Mary, brandishing her umbrella like a sword. "But then a pure, clean, solitary voice cut through the argument."
Everyone's eyes flash to Magpie, who steps forward between Mary and Cherry. They're much taller than she istheir shoulders are broad and their chests are wide and their jaws are thick and masculine compared to her strawberry-shaped facebut they give way as she takes command of the scene.
"A woman stepped out of the forest," says Mary Cone, "clad in a gown of fresh green leaves, with a wreath of wildflowers on her head."
Cherry Poppins lowers a woven crown, blooming with pink roses, onto Magpie's head.
"And what was this woman's name?" she asks.
"May Winter!" scream the kids, mesmerized.
"That's right," says Mary Cone. "A woman named Winter saved spring that year, and for every year to come. She'd only arrived in Edmonton a few months before, but already she knew that this was a special place and she wanted to help it thrive. So she said..."
"Let me be your Melting Queen," declares the goddess in green. "Let me take in this moment in time, preserve this glorious vitality which has vanquished our Long Winter, guard this spirit of spring for a year, until the next Melting Day."
"And then they watched in awe as the aurora shimmered down from the heavens and May Winter breathed it all in with one deep breath," says Cherry Poppins.
The leaf-clad queen mimes gulping down the northern lights, the kids copying her.
"From that day forward, Edmonton has never been without a Melting Queen," says Mary Cone. "She protects us. Nurtures us. Announces when spring has sprung. She's our eternal mother, our city's First Lady, and no other city has a woman like her. One hundred and fourteen women have had this honour, from May Winter to Saoirse Beltane, from Organza Grant to Alice Songhua. You can breathe out now," she adds, and Magpie and all the kids release their pent-up breath in one big burst.
"And who can be the Melting Queen?" gasps Magpie.
"Any girl who wants!" shout the kids.
"That's right!" says Magpie. "Whether she's a grandma or a little girl like some of you, any woman can be Named. All she has to do is put a leaf with her name on it on May Winter's statue."
She leans coyly toward the kids and raises her exquisitely plucked eyebrows.
"Maybe I'll be the Melting Queen this year," she says.
"Nooooo!" giggle the kids.
"I can't be the Melting Queen?" she asks with mock outrage.
"Nooooo!" repeat the kids, loving it.
"Why not?" she pouts.
"Cuz you're a boy!" some of them shout, and Magpie folds her hands over the front of her dress suggestively, a faux-shocked look on her face.
The kids laugh and the drag queen ruffles haughtily.
"Well I don't need to be the Melting Queen to have a great party today and to be thankful to May Winter for starting this tradition! And what's the most fun thing to do on Melting Day?"
"Dance!" shout the kids, and on cue another song kicks off, the drag queens and the children and their parents all jolting along to its spasmodic beat.