Book #271: Snow Like Ashes Review

3 Star Ratings

 

I’m going to take  hipster moment right from the beginning.  Are you ready?  Are you sure?  Okay, here it goes:

I’ve been reading young adult fiction since before it was cool.

Seriously!  I love YA literature, and I won’t apologize for it.  I cut my teeth on Diana Wynne Jones’ Chronicles of Chrestomanci and Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, and it’s been one of my comfort genres ever since.  I read YA literature regularly, because it’s accessible and (usually) moves pretty quickly.  When you’re winding down from a long, stressful day, sometimes you just need a good fluffy read.

That’s exactly what I was looking for when Old Man Winter finally rolled into town last week.  We’ve had a particularly mild winter here (sorry, eastern seaboard!), so when the weather finally turned bone-chilling, I decided to grab a suitably wintery read.  Enter Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes, which fit the bill perfectly.

Snow Like Ashes follows sixteen-year-old Meira, who’s spent her short life in exile after her home country, the Kingdom of Winter, is captured and its citizens enslaved.  She’s one of eight survivors who have become spies and warriors, desperate to find a way to put Meira’s best friend/crush/future king Mather Dynam back on the throne.  Increasingly desperate, the refugees make a deal with a neighboring kingdom: Meira will marry the heir to the Cordellian throne, Theron Haskar, in exchange for political support.  But that ends up being a lie, and Meira finds herself fighting for Winter’s future—alone.

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Honestly, this book isn’t breaking any YA molds.  It’s exactly what you would expect from a contemporary YA novel: it’s fast-paced, pretty predictable, fluffy, and entertaining.  If you’re looking for a deep-thinker, this ain’t it, sister.

Meira fits the role of the mass-produced young adult heroine, that’s for sure.  She’s pretty and clever, brave, an excellent fighter, and desperate to liberate her countrymen who are currently enslaved by the Kingdom of Spring.  Oh, and as you would expect: she’s desperately in love with her best friend, who just so happens to be the heir of Winter and totally, completely out of her league. Of course. Because reasons.

The one twist to Meira’s character is the fact that she’s an orphan. No one knows her parents, and her father figure, Sir William Loren, constantly pushes her away.  Meria repeatedly says that all she wants is for “Sir” to see her, but he adamantly refuses any sort of connection with her.  This goes from plot device to totally weird once Meira risks her life to rescue one half of Winter’s locket.  Even though she’s done what no one else has, Sir still chastises her.

Turns out, Sir keeps her at a distance because Meira isn’t an orphan at all, but—get ready for this—she’s the actual heir of Winter, not Mather.  The refugees have hidden her identity from her to “keep her safe,” even though just telling her the truth would have basically solved every issue from the very beginning. 

This book would have been much, much more interesting if Meira had remained an orphan fighting for her country.  Making her “The One,” the Savior of Her People and Basically Everything Ever, is pretty old hat.  Wouldn’t it have been cool if we finally saw the life of just another soldier fighting for her people?

This novel has more problems than just its plot.  I found the worldbuilding particularly confusing.  There are two types of countries in this novel, Seasons and Rhythms, and only some have magic.  (Or do they all?  I’m still not sure.) Raasch clearly states multiple times that countries with magic suppress those without, but we never actually know the divisions of power.  When she does build Primoria’s politics andculture , it’s in large info dumps, often which seem half-baked.  For instance, how could it possibly be that only eight refugees made it out of an entire country after it fell in a revolution?  In any world, in any nation, that seems completely unreasonable.  Also, the numbers of people in work camps hardly seem like enough to support any kind of population, even after sixteen years of slavery.  From a completely practical level, it doesn’t behoove slave owners to wreck their slave population.  Then who will do the work?  Your citizens?  Naturally not.

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And that’s the unfortunate shortfall of this book: the messages are regrettably superficial.  Raasch creates a platform for a nitty-gritty discussion of slavery, but it comes secondary to Meira’s discovery of her royal lineage.  Though Meira does witness terrible violence during her time in a work camp, it’s buried under Meira’s constant “I will fix this, I will save Winter” inner monologues.  Instead of shedding light on the realities of labor camps (I’m looking at you, Qatar) and crafting a powerful narrative about politics and suppression, it becomes a plot point.  I was disappointed that Raasch let that slip away.


On the whole, though, I thought Snow Like Ashes was a fun, if not completely stereotypically YA, read.  I’ll likely pick up the next book in the series, if only because sometimes, you just need a quick and fluffy read.

Read Snow Like Ashes if:

You’re looking for a fantasy read that isn’t fourteen books long

You like typical, spunky heroines

You are looking for a light read and don’t mind books that retread YA tropes

Skip Snow Like Ashes if:

You want a mind-bending, challenging read

You dislike the movie Anastasia (this book is Anastasia retold)

You can’t overlook issues with logic or worldbuilding

Full disclosure: I listened to this as an audiobook.  For my opinion about audiobooks versus physical books, see the FAQ.



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