Book Review: Snow Like Ashes

snow like ashesSnow Like Ashes
by Sara Raasch
YA Fantasy
422 pages
Published 2014

The world-building in this book is fascinating. At first, it seems like yet another YA novel about displaced royals trying to win back their kingdom, but this royal is in much more dire straits than most. Meira is a refugee living on the run with seven others, one of them her rightful King. All the rest of their people have been enslaved by the conquering country, and their kingdom’s link to the magic inherent in the land has been broken.

A little backdrop is needed. In Meira’s land, there are eight countries. The Rhythm countries, where seasons proceed as normal, and the Seasons – 4 countries locked in one season each. The rulers of each country have a magic conduit that lets them feed magic to their people – but the conduits are gender-locked. In four of the countries, only women can use the conduit; in the other four, only men. Meira and her little band are all that’s left of the free people of Winter. Spring invaded sixteen years ago, killed Winter’s queen, broke the locket that was their magic conduit (each ruler has one) and enslaved their people. Because the queen only had a son, he can’t wield Winter’s magic anyway. They’re still trying to find the two pieces of the locket so when he has a daughter, she can wield it. You’d think at this point, since he’s of age, he should be trying to get as many women pregnant as possible to up the odds of getting a royal heir who can wield the magic, but that…doesn’t come up.

The book does delve into the country’s people being oppressed, used as slaves, and being incredibly abused by the conquering country, and this is where I ran into a quandary. The Season’s people reflect their countries: Autumn’s people have copper skin, Spring’s citizens are blond-haired and green-eyed – and Winter’s people are white. Pale skin, snow-white hair, blue eyes. Writing white people as the oppressed people just rubs me the wrong way. (In that false “help I’m being oppressed because other people want equal rights!” kind of way.) Yes, this is fantasy, yes, it has nothing to do with our world’s politics – but it bothers me. It’s at least not white-savioring, as Meira’s trying to save her own people, but I don’t know. Is it better or worse to write white people as the oppressed protagonists?

That question aside, this was a well-written novel of fighting against an oppressor. There is definitely still work to be done at the end of the book, and there are two more books, as well as two short stories. While I am a little curious what ultimately happens, I don’t know if the series has earned more time on my reading list.

From the cover of Snow Like Ashes:

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 Winter rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers and fighting enemy soldiers 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.

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