Monday, June 22, 2015

Audiobook Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Title: Snow Like Ashes
Author: Sara Raasch 
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
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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. 

I've been on a little bit of a fantasy kick recently so, with a gap in my heart left by the endings of An Ember in the Ashes and Crimson Bound, I went in search of something equally amazing to fill the void. I didn't know a whole lot about Snow Like Ashes other than that I haven't seen many (possibly any) negative reviews in my circle of bookish friends. With a free Audible credit on hand, I decided to give this one a try. I went in with very high expectations and came out, well, a little disappointed.

Snow Like Ashes is a story of eight kingdoms: four Seasons and four Rhythms (more on that later). Meira is a refugee of Winter, having escaped with a handful of others when Spring attacked sixteen years ago. She has been raised alongside Mather, the future king of Winter, and their only goal is to reclaim two halves of a locket that hold all of the kingdom's magic. Of course, Meira is held back where Mather is allowed to go out on dangerous missions and she doesn't like that. In fact, Meira pretty much doesn't like anything from the very beginning of the book and that's kind of my problem with her.

From chapter one Meira goes on and on about how she wants to matter. We're reminded of this over and over (and over and over) throughout the book. Meira wants to MATTER, dammit! While she wants you to think that all she wants is what's best for her people, what she really wants is to do whatever she wants. I hate to tell you, Meira, but that's not how being a soldier works.... She doesn't want to do anything her superiors tell her to do - she does everything her way. She doesn't want to stay at home and let the more skilled soldiers take on the Big Bad. When she is told she must form a marriage alliance for the good of the kingdom, she doesn't want to do that either. And even in the very end when she gets what is arguably exactly what she wants, she finds a way to complain about how maybe she doesn't want to do that either. Meira was whiney and selfish and kind of a brat and I feel terrible for saying so because I know that pretty much everyone loved her and thought she was super amazing!

Mather and Theron are the two love interests (there always have to be at least two, you know!) and both are future kings. Meira has a tough life. Like I've already said, Meira grew up next to Mather, so it's not surprising that they feel romantic attraction towards each other. I actually did like his character a lot more than I liked any of the others. I really sympathized with his situation. It seemed like he was stuck between a rock and a hard place and my heart went out to him. Theron was a little more difficult to wrap my mind around though. Their "romance" seemed a little instalove-y, although it was not at the forefront of the story. The romance overall was just okay. I didn't feel anything strongly for either of the two guys in the way of romance, although if I had to pick one it would probably be Mather, just because they have history together.

The secondary character in Snow Like Ashes were pretty unmemorable, to be honest. Sir is the biggest of these and, while I felt a little twinge for him now and then, he wasn't especially likable. I felt similarly about the Winterians in the work camps.

Angra, the Big Bad, along with Herod, his minion, were... meh. They were largely absent from the story and never really did a whole lot of anything that would make me really too worried about them. A lot was -told- about Angra and the terrible things he did, but not much was shown to me through the events of the story. I feel like he definitely should have been a little more of an imminent threat.

The world building in this book was interesting, I'll give it that. Sara Raasch has definitely tried to create something unique and interesting in the eight kingdoms and their distinctive settings. I enjoy reading their initial descriptions... but that's about as far as it went.

Here's what I feel I've learned about these kingdoms: Winter = cold and snow + white hair, Summer = really hot and uncomfortable, etc. I didn't feel like I was there. I love it when an author is able to transport me into their world and make me feel like I'm experiencing everything right along with the characters. Unfortunately, I didn't get that feeling here.

I also thought the naming of the Season capitals were a little... silly. Jannuari, Abril, Oktuber... I don't buy it. I'm going to be really honest here: at the beginning of the book the author says she wrote the first draft when she was 12. I feel like these names were probably part of the first draft and should have been changed. It was unique, yes, but not necessarily in a good way. 

This is my absolute biggest problem with Snow Like Ashes. If the story had been super awesome I could have overlooked the silly names of the capitals and maybe even Meira being way too into herself. But the plot ruined it for me.

First and foremost, everything was just dumped on me. Info dumps everywhere. That speaks for itself. More importantly though...

At maybe 20 minutes into this 10+ hour audiobook, when the magic of the conduits was first being explained, I knew what the big twist would be. I hoped I was wrong. I hoped it SO HARD! I mean, I'm usually pretty slow when it comes to figuring these things out. I'm usually completely blindsided! But this one was just so blatantly obvious. She basically tells you what's going to happen in the first couple chapters! But I thought that surely I was wrong. That couldn't be it! But it was. Still, when the big reveal happened at 9 hours in, I thought maybe something else would happen! Something even more HUGE! But no. Nothing really did.

Not only that, but did no one else find it super convenient how these characters just squeak past death over and over and over? Things just keep going right for them even when it shouldn't have. I definitely wasn't on the edge of my seat. Ever. Because I knew no one was going to die.

I wanted to like this so much. I wanted to LOVE it! I even passed up reading Throne of Glass in favor of listening to this first. But, after reading multiple AMAZING fantasies back to back to back, this was a pretty big letdown. I did enjoy Mather and I can appreciate that the world was unique, even if I didn't love it. I'd still recommend it to fans of YA fantasy because this is one of those cases where I am definitely in the minority. Literally all of my Goodreads friends gave it a 4+ rating! Unfortunately, it just wasn't for me.