Release Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Synopsis on Goodreads:
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.
Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes was an unexpected gem for me. I was confident I’d enjoy it, but there were definitely some elements that bumped it up to a five star rating. To be honest, my first impression of kingdoms named after seasons felt cheesy, but after reading there’s absolutely nothing cheesy about it. Raasch has this skill to take wholly original ideas, add in incredible writing and create a novel I was hooked onto from the first page. I went into this knowing it was a series and Snow Like Ashes has fixed me onto it; there are a select few books that can do this! Make no mistake, if I enjoy book one, I’ll definitely continue with the series, but I’m not usually fully-engrossed until book two or three.
I loved the writing! Snow Like Ashes was a very fine example of 1st POV; the quality reminded me of Blood Red Road or The Hunger Games. I actually felt like I was in Meira’s head or even that Meira had a camera because everything she saw or experienced was described. I read an article by Rachel Starr Thompson called “How Writers Can Be Storyshowers instead of Storytellers”. To paraphrase, humans used to be storytellers so stories were told, with the majority summarized and action happening from a long-distance view. We really need to be storyshowers; writing in scenes and having our novel rely heavily on scene rather than summary (Thompson). Through talent and hard work, Raasch proves to be a storyshower.
World-building and plot. I felt having ‘winter’ as the protagonist and ‘summer’ the antagonist was an interesting twist. I generally find winter is associated with bleakness, cold and long nights, and in some fantasy worlds winter is not something you want; the protagonist may even be fighting against winter/a winter-themed villain. Raasch provided a refreshing twist on this archetype. Additionally, whenever I had a question about the fantasy world (ex. which kingdoms have female blood-heirs and which have male), it was immediately answered on the next page or chapter. Using the example above, I wasn’t sure whether the Season Kingdoms had all female blood-heirs (as I knew Winter did) and the Rhythm Kingdoms had all male blood-heirs (I knew Cordell did), but this was quickly answered.
Onto our main character, Meira. There’s always something about the protagonist that makes them extraordinary, but a lot of the times it can feel like they were born with this “something”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I sometimes feel like the main character is a hero/heroine before the novel begins. Lineage-wise Meira is ordinary – her parents were peasants, which is about the only thing we know about them (at least in Meira’s POV) – and it’s amazing to observe her go from ordinary to extraordinary. The back of the copy I read described this book as, “a hero in the making” and as I read I could actually believe this. As Meira builds her own destiny, her actions make her extraordinary. Moving on, Meira is a very conflicted character. Her country was destroyed when she was an infant, so she doesn’t feel any emotional attachment to it. This in turn created guilt, and character development like such was just as important as freeing the Kingdom of Winter.
I really truly loved this debut! Tons of action, a conflicted but strong heroine, and great writing had me falling in love with Raasch’s fantasy world. There were some plot twists I did not expect – I’m usually pretty good at figuring out any/all foreshadowing – and there was one type of scene that had me pondering the dynamics/how it could be happening. I couldn’t decide if it was a dream, memory, or some kind of magic involved, but it stood out a lot to me! I’m extremely excited for the sequel, Ice Like Fire and what sort of challenges lie ahead for these characters!