Edmonton, But Make it Magical
Sarah Bachmier reviews the 2019 novel The Melting Queen by Bruce Cinnamon
When I began my search for a novel that had a connection with Edmonton, I never thought I’d discover one of the most beautiful books I’d ever read. The Melting Queen takes Edmonton and transforms it into a place both familiar and new. In his first novel, published on April 1, 2019 by NeWest Press, Bruce Cinnamon creates an Edmonton full of magic, both literal and metaphorical.
Cinnamon is native to the Edmonton area, being born in Edmonton and growing up just outside of the city in Fort Saskatchewan. He is a University of Alberta alumni, with a BA in English and Creative Writing. Cinnamon writes short stories, articles, and works in other genres.
In his first novel, Edmonton has crowned a ‘Melting Queen’ for 115 years. The ‘Melting Queen’ represents the femininity and beauty of spring, waking all of Edmonton up after a long slumber through the winter months. Certain things are exaggerated (such as the length of an Edmonton winter), but this adds to the atmosphere of this magically realistic version of Edmonton.
The novel follows River Runson (who uses they/them pronouns), as they discover their gender fluidity and get crowned as ‘The Melting Queen’, dividing the city. Half of the city is against River as the Melting Queen, along with the Edmonton Civic Heritage Organization (ECHO) board members (an official party who designate good candidates each year for the Melting Queen), while the other half is rooting for them. River is caught in the middle, dealing with another aspect of the Melting Queens that is kept secret from the public: all the Melting Queens are connected, through “Intrusions”. Once one is crowned the Melting Queen, each queen can see memories from each other of distinct points in their lives.
River has to navigate many obstacles throughout the story – but mostly the real secrets that are hidden within the 100-year-old tradition. In an interview with Chelsea Novak of Daze Magazine, Cinnamon stated that “[t]he painful process of becoming the Melting Queen and being forced into this public role in this really uncomfortable way and having to really define and then defend an identity that’s not very well understood by most people creates the more positive feelings that River ends the book with—this sort of grudging like of Edmonton”.
It’s a story about the subversion of gender and tradition. This novel takes tradition and challenges both the reader and characters within the novel to look at these systematic forces critically.
I genuinely loved this novel. As someone who grew up in Edmonton, I recognized all the places and references that Cinnamon uses throughout. How River (the protagonist) feels about the city – wanting to both stay and leave-hits home – is something I’ve felt frequently. I know other Edmontonians who have the same perspective.
Not everyone feels the same way about the city, but this novel takes several opinions – those who love the city, those who are indifferent, those who want to leave – and these opinions are utilized to create a connection between several important plots and characters. Honestly, this novel made me see Edmonton differently. Cinnamon writes Edmonton in such a unique way – it lets the reader see Edmonton through someone else’s eyes.
My favourite aspects of The Melting Queen have to be the prose and River’s voice. River’s voice is captivating – I always wanted to know their next thought, how they perceived the world. Their dynamic with their friends is well established; I always looked forward to seeing any character interact with River, and to the way that River feels about Edmonton, and several characters who criticize Edmonton.
“I dream that my new glorious self will be born on the first day of spring. When the ice breaks and the river is freed, the whole city will celebrate Melting Day, Edmonton’s most important holiday. The sun will boil off the snow and the city will rise from its slumber. The people will flood into the streets and ascend into revelry. Everyone will laugh and drink and feast and dance and cry with joy that the Long Winter has finally ended after all these horrible months. And I will be made new again”.
from The Melting Queen
The characters who surround River, both friends and enemies, represent different sides of the city – those who accept and embrace change, that the system is flawed, and those who refuse to acknowledge what needs to be torn down and rebuilt. River’s own character through the 219 pages of the novel is so well developed. For a book that truly is about the setting and problems rooted within the city, River’s character development is thoroughly implemented throughout the plot and enhances it. I was mesmerized by each and every word written through River’s point of view. The blend of magical realism is so subtle yet intricately woven into the plot. It kept me wanting to read more about this imagined yet real place.
Not only were River’s thoughts engaging, the prose is simply stunning. Cinnamon’s writing is interwoven with descriptive imagery that captures the loneliness and solitude that surrounds Edmonton in the winter. It’s colourful and vivid and evoking. It hit all my senses; I felt like I was right in the river valley in the dead of winter. I was following River through Edmonton and imagining this city I know so well through a character’s eyes, and still felt like I was witnessing something I’d never encountered before. When the story shifts gear from winter to spring, the imagery is just as evocative.
“’I feel like I’d walked down into the ocean, and the waves covered me up bit by bit. For months I was down there, on the ocean floor, where no light could penetrate. I knew who I was when I left the shore, but I didn’t know who I was at the bottom of the sea.’”
From The Melting Queen
The Melting Queen takes a city and takes characters who have contradictory opinions of the way the city acts, and orchestrates their ways. It takes a blend of these dynamics and creates a thought-provoking story set to challenge how one may think of one’s hometown. I would recommend this novel to anyone who wants a beautiful story that takes a city and transforms it into something new.
Anyone can enjoy this novel, but for those who hold Edmonton dear to their heart, this novel will be close to home.
The Melting Queen
by Bruce Cinnamon
NeWest Press, 2019
For those in Edmonton who want to pick up this work of art and read it for themselves, the novel is available from $20.95 at several Chapters and Indigo locations, as well as Audrey’s Books, one of Edmonton’s oldest and most known local bookstores.
It is also available as a Kindle e-book from amazon