Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on May 3, 2017
I'm new to Mr. Holmberg's writing; my usual approach to new writers is to be open minded, that way I won't be disappointed. But very early on, probably the first three chapters, I knew this was going to be good. When I finished it (foregoing sleep in the middle of the work week) I realized this was going to be a favorite because I went right back to the beginning the next morning to re-read my favorite passages. I rarely ever do that. It reminded me of the Snow Queen of course, but it reminded me also of the Cobweb Bride series, with hints from Children of the Black Sun (w/o the sex or violence). The story was refreshing that the premise is based in magic, but it's not a world centered around it.
At first I was put off by the first-person narrative; that usually requires me to get out of my own head space and get into someone else's where the perspective is limited. The author fixes that by giving it a past tense narration, meaning the narrator lives through the story and is recounting it with a different, objective eye. The reader follows along as the narrator makes her own discoveries while going over her past. It certainly helped that the narration is so compelling and well-written that I soon forgot how much I disliked first-person narration.
No giant words here to clutter the simple, emotional tale, but that's a bonus because it was still very intelligent--drawing you in without being wordy or superficially hard.
The story takes place in a rich world of separate countries, very different from one another, where, for the most part magic is discussed in hushed tones but the general populace is rather superstitious and closed minded. The only magic users are in the cold North, where they use dark magic or blood magic and the reader never steps foot there. The background is more akin to our middle-ages, maybe: Wagons and horses and no indoor plumbing to make life just that much more interesting.
When we are first introduced to our unlikely heroine, the general feeling is to want to dislike her. She is spoiled, selfish to a fault, though she comes from a decent family. She takes everything for granted; her lifestyle, her friends, her relationships and doesn't know how lucky she is -- or at least doesn't appreciate anything but herself and her beauty. There isn't an ounce of humility in her and she's the type who would throw her friends in front of the bus if only to save herself. But because she is also narrating with a self-deprecating tone, we know she has changed for the better, and we want to know how that came to be.
Through a series of unfortunate events, mostly of her own doing, she becomes cursed and she is abandoned and alone for the first time in her life. I thought she would be spiteful for much longer but there is a process of self-discovery and inner character development that starts almost immediately. The author spares us most of the details of her hardship but we are given snapshots of how horrible it becomes for her and it was enough to develop sympathy. In that crucible of suffering and fear she almost goes mad, more than once, and reader almost weeps for her.
Death follows her like a crazy stalker, probably because he sees the true strength in her and wants to possess her for himself because she is probably the most interesting human he's met in a long time. He is neither friend nor foe, but the jury is still out on how I feel about him. He works as a catalyst to her self discovery though he is as whimsical as he is cruel.
What I most loved about her was that she was not an idiot, as some fantasy authors like to make their heroines, and she was intelligent despite her flaws. On top of that, she was clever, though not worldly. The mark of a true heroine is whether after suffering immense loss/defeat, she can rise from her own ashes on her own two feet to make sense of it all. Through suffering she gains a different perspective, and she did not let hate or fear defeat her. Her saving graces are perhaps her zest for life that is not easily extinguished and her sense of humor. She may have gone in as a cold stone, but she emerges as a shiny diamond.