Review of Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. The Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been searching for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild their kingdom ever since.
Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter’s future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of half of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics, and to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.
After reading The first two books of The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, all of the high fantasy I’ve read (and most other books, too) seem to pale in comparison. The Shattered Sea books are gritty, action-packed, fast paced and as close as a YA book can come to A Game of Thrones.
I was looking for another high fantasy series that would entertain and grip me as much as The Shattered Sea series does. Snow Like Ashes doesn’t reach Abercrombie’s heights, but it offers a solid fantasy world and some great battles.
I like books set in cold, harsh worlds, and Primoria offers one. It’s a pretty unique world too, with territories divided into seasons and rhythms (the rhythms were a little weird, but it’s a cool idea). Spring is the enemy, and Winter the destroyed kingdom the heroin and her friends are trying to save. Raasch delivers some solid world-building, even if we do learn things in info-dumps explained by the narrator and other characters—but doing it any other way isn’t easy. I realise this is the first in a series, but I wanted to see more of Winter, and hear more about the landscapes. While the history, laws and magic were explained well enough, the lands themselves were a vaguely described for the most part.
Description is handled well, and like Abercrombie, Raasch doesn’t pile it in like a lot of high fantasy novels do. There’s never too much to take away from the pace (which is pretty fast). Sometimes the metaphors and similes are over the top, but maybe that’s more to do with the personality of the narrator.
Meira is a strong heroine, defiant, and most of the other cast members are well-drawn. I was confused early on about motives and agendas, but it all shaped itself out before the halfway mark. Until the halfway mark, there had been a couple of great fight sequences and some fast-paced escapes, but then they reached Cordell (a rhythm kingdom) and the seemingly obligatory makeover scenes etc. that a lot of YA novels have started. I was worried the battles were over, but then Raasch delivered a gripping one and the action was full on from that point—right up until the final, stirring battle.
The climax was intense and the pages whipped by. The twist wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it changed things up and re-shaped the course of the rest of the novel—and the sequels.
Overall, Snow Like Ashes is a solid YA high fantasy with a unique world that I hope gets developed more in future books. The pace was fast from the beginning to end, with only a few falters early on. The characters are decent, if not as unique as the world building. The action is well written and there’s plenty of it. It’s not Game of Thrones, or Shattered Sea, but it’s close enough that fans of both those series will enjoy it. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.
Have you read an impressive YA high fantasy recently? Do you prefer gritty battles or more politically focused fantasy? Can you recommend any high fantasy that doesn’t focus heavily on romance and has plenty of battles?