Goodreads: Snow Like Ashes
Series: Snow Likes Ashes #1
Published: October 14, 2014
A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.
Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.
Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.
So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.
Snow Like Ashes has all the right ingredients for a memorable fantasy: a quest to reclaim a kingdom, a latent magic, a romance with a charming prince. And even though the novel draws on a lot of standard fantasy elements and scenes, those moments are treated with enough originality that the book never feels dull or derivative. Basically, I wanted to love this book, but I never quite connected with the characters, and my lack of interest in their lives and problems damped my enjoyment of what is otherwise a fantastically written book.
The heroine, Meira, is just about everything one could ask from a fantasy heroine. She is thoughtful, motivated, and complex. She wants to do the right thing but struggles with what it means to do the right thing for herself versus the right thing for her people…and for a country she has never actually seen. She plays the role of hero while questioning what that means and what it is worth. And if someone had told me this about Meira before I picked up Snow Like Ashes, it would undoubtedly make me want to read her story. I wish I liked her as much as it seems as if I should. In many ways, she’s the female teen version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Aragorn. Yet, in the end, something about her fell flat for me. Perhaps it’s that she never really figures out whether she’s making her own decisions or acting out some sort of destiny, or perhaps it’s something else, but I’m really not invested in Meira as a person, her wonderful qualities notwithstanding.
Likewise for the other characters: they are essentially all complex and, theoretically, should be interesting to read about. No one’s a stereotype in this book, even if they fill recognizable fantasy roles. Yet, as with Meira, I’m just not invested in them. I’m a bit intrigued by Theron, a prince who wants nothing more than to be an artist yet who feels an obligation to be a good ruler to his country. I also enjoy him as a love interest, although the romance by the end seems a bit forced, after the book creates a sudden and unlikely reason Meira is no longer interested in the other man who was formerly involved in a love triangle with them. Meria goes quite quickly from having romance options to having the option of Theron or no one. I’m predicting she’ll go with Theron.
The world building is also a strong characteristic of the book. Creating countries that are named after the one season they experience (Winter, Spring, Fall, Summer) sounds just like the sort of the thing I would do when I was a child writing fantasy stories, and I love that an author has made this idea work in a sophisticated book. The magic system of the countries initially seems a big vague, but it gets fleshed out by the end of the novel. The political relationships between countries are also well-imagined and explained. Snow Like Ashes takes its world building seriously.
I didn’t personally connect with Snow Like Ashes, but I do think it is superbly written. I sometimes think YA high fantasy shies away from being as thoughtful and complex as it can be, but Snow Like Ashes really proves me wrong. Recommended for fans of Tamora Pierce, Brandon Sanderson, or Morgan Rhodes.