Snow Like Ashes is Sara Raasch’s debut fantasy novel and for that I commend its fast pace and the strong, if simple, premise. A lack of depth ultimately lets it down but Raasch may well be one to watch.
Our heroine, Meira, lives in a country divided into seasonal kingdoms (in Summer kingdom it is always summer; in Spring kingdom it is always spring — you get the idea). When Meira was a baby, her kingdom (Winter) was taken over by the dominant Spring. Along with a few others, including the infant heir to the throne of Winter, and a battle hardened warrior simply called “Sir”, she escaped. We meet the small group of survivors living in exile in the lands outside of the Seasons where they are training to overthrow the Spring kingdom and reclaim their homeland. To do so they need to reclaim both parts of a magical conduit that exists in the form of a locket. When united, these halves bring power to Winter’s people.
Snow Like Ashes starts promisingly with some exciting action as Meira sneaks into Spring to steal the all-important locket. She is determined to prove herself as a warrior to her grouchy guardian, Sir. Happily there is some depth and conflict in Meira’s character. She is fighting for a homeland that she has no real memory of and at times finds that hard to deal with. I would have liked to have seen this developed even further but then I can’t deny I have a penchant for conflicted women.
Things take a disappointing turn when we find out Meira is deeply in love with Winter’s prince, Mather, and becomes giddy and vapid in his presence. This is not only predictable but takes away from all the strength in her character. More than once I wanted to give her a hard shake. Things only get worse in this arena when the survivors travel to a new kingdom in the hope of forming an alliance in the battle against Spring. A love triangle that adds very little to the story is fast to emerge. I much preferred the second bloke to Mather, who was rather dull, but that wasn’t enough to stop me groaning.
Love triangle aside, the plot develops at a good pace and as Meira increasingly finds herself a pawn in the wider game I was compelled to keep reading. Once again there is an interesting conflict between her determination to fight as a warrior and the bitter reality that her greatest use may lie in a tactical marriage. The action at the end is involved and explosive, slipping between fast-paced battle and agonising scenes of slavery and despair as we are given an insight into Spring life. There are a few twists along the way, not all of which I saw coming. I was also impressed that while the way is clearly open to a sequel the story is fully developed. There was an end-point with enough loose-ends tied to satisfy me — a rare accomplishment in a first book.
The problems with Snow Like Ashes lie in a lack of depth to the world-building. I missed that spark of magic and mystery in the setting that draws to me to fantasy literature. The idea of the seasonal kingdoms is a simple one and could be effective if taken further. But if you like complex world building it may come across flat and childish. People that come from Winter are called (wait for it) Winterians. On other levels, too, I found the plot and people shallow. The true villain of Spring, called Herod (which struck me as randomly religious), was a classic baddy, one I have encountered in many other guises, in many other books. Magic and special powers were promised but what materialised was not especially original or captivating. The premise was strong but the delivery disappointed. Give this a read if you want something quick and easy with a well-crafted plot, but don’t except a life-changer.
The sequel Ice Like Fire will be released in November 2015. I will be interested to see where Raasch takes her characters from here — watch this space.