Sunday, 1 November 2015
Snow Like Ashes - Review
I was so excited for this book! I placed my pre-order for the utterly gorgeous paperback and patiently waited for it to drop onto my mat. And I have to say, I was kind of disappointed. Perhaps because I was expecting something truly wonderful, when I discovered something that was just good, the expectation versus the reality made me a little hard on the book. I liked it, I did. But I didn't love it like I was expecting to. Snow Like Ashes ticks every box in the YA handbook; feisty heroine, magic, warring kingdoms, the evil king, the hard but caring father figure, swoon-worthy romance, the "twist" reveal, the obligatory love triangle. And perhaps it's because it tries to tick all of them that it doesn't get many quite right. It's abundantly clear though that Sara Raasch is a wonderful writer and storyteller, and this book is a promising start to a series.
First off, the world building is so promising, it was the set up alone that got me wanting this book. The idea of four seasonal kingdoms, each locked in perpetual winter, summer, autumn or spring is a tantalising prospect. Throw in four rhythm kingdoms and I'm falling into your book headfirst. The magic element of the story however is frustratingly done. No rules are established on what exactly the magic does, how and why people use it. I don't expect to read a manual or list of rules, but because the there is frustratingly little to go on, a few plot twists seem to come out of left field and feel a bit like a "because magic" get out. Described as "a big ball of magic" in a chasm beneath the eight kingdoms that can be chanelled by a conduit, there's not a lot to go on. One person uses it to change form, there's a mention of one kingdom using it to increase its people luck and fortune, some people use it to heal, but it's still not entirely clear exactly what everyone is fighting each other for. The introspective, first person pov from Meira means that the scope is a little too narrow to fully explore these realms and magic without scattering huge chunks of exposition through the book.
Clocking in at 416 pages, this isn't a light read and the book would have benefited from a more ruthless edit. Quite a few times I was tempted to skip big chunks of exposition that occur frequently throughout the book. Because there are a lot of shorter chapters, Snow Like Ashes has a decidedly episodic feel as the characters abruptly lunge from one setting and event to another before quickly moving on, big plot points being robbed of the dramatic impact they should have. Speaking of things that don't carry the weight they should, I didn't feel the love triangle between Meira, Mather and Theron, mainly because it was a little bland for me. Mather is the erstwhile king of Winter. Theron is the prince of Cordell. Both have arms that could strangle a cow and abs your could do your laundry on. Both are handsome. Both love Meira (obviously) and both are equally protective of her and tolerant of her need to fight. Their characters are pretty interchangeable. One's paler than the other, but other than that there's precious little to set them apart, so it's kind of hard to get invested in which one she picks. Meira however though, is something Snow Like Ashes gets totally right. She's not a perfect protagonist by any stretch. She does stupid things, she makes stupid decisions and is not above acting like a moody teenager on occasion. But as flawed and imperfect as she is, she makes for a very real character and her heart is always in the right place. The final quarter or so is where the books comes into its own as Meira is stripped of the supporting characters and exposition, and steps up to fight for her people and her beliefs. The revelations are incredibly easy to see coming, but it felt to me like the book found its feet towards the end when it ditched the exposition, set up and flashbacks and just focused on the here and now.
If I had to sum up my feelings on Snow Like Ashes in one word, it would be frustrating. There are so many great ideas, but it feels like none are fully explored, and all these rules, kingdoms, twists and characters end up tripping over each other. Nothing here blew my mind. It's a promising start to the series, with Ice Like Fire already out, but I'm hoping that the next book is a bit more focused.