*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Four kingdoms of eternal seasons, four kingdoms that cycle through all seasons; four kingdoms with female-blooded conduits, four with male-blooded.'The kingdom of Winter fell sixteen years ago when Angra, the evil ruler of the Spring kingdom, killed Winter's queen and destroyed their conduit. Each of the eight kingdoms has a conduit which allows them to use magic to benefit the population of the kingdom, but Winter's locket was broken into two pieces - Angra kept half, but the other half was locked in a box and disappeared into Spring. The Winterians were captured and taken to work camps, where they've been slaving away ever since.
Luckily, a group managed to evade Angra's capture, and it's this group that we join at the start of our journey. Once upon a time there had been 25 of them, but their number has been diminished to just 8: Sir (aka William), the leader of the group, and his wife Alysson, Dendara, Greer, Henn, Finn, Mather - the future king of Winter - and Meira, our protagonist.
The group believe that the key to regaining Winter's position and releasing the Winterians from their slavery lies in the locket. For sixteen years they've been attempting to steal back the locket and reunite the two halves, but their missions have been unsuccessful. Meira is determined to participate in their latest attempt, but Sir is unsure - she's not the most skilled with close combat fighting, preferring her ranged chakram which she's extremely competent with. Mather lies to Sir, telling him that Meira managed to beat him in a swordfight, so Sir relents... Only for Meira to be captured by Herod, Angra's second in command, after being separated from Finn in Spring territory.
However, due to good luck or good judgement - or a combination of the two - Meira manages to escape with the locket half. It's the biggest step that the refugees have taken since Angra destroyed their home, but it causes many more problems. Mather is going to be the King of Winter, but the conduit is female-blooded - if they can retrieve the other half, will he even be able to use it? And how will they steal back the other half, when it's hanging around Angra's neck?
Sir's plan is to go to Cordell - one of the Rhythm kingdoms - and see if they can make an alliance. Meira is unsure about the plan, because Sir has always shown nothing but hatred towards Cordell: when they arrive and she finds out she's been promised to the Cordellan prince, Theron, she knows all of her fears were rational. King Noam isn't willing to help Winter unless Meira goes through with the marriage, so she puts her feelings to the side and agrees: she's always said she'll do anything to help Winter, so why should what she wants get in the way of that? But when the Angra discovers Cordell are harbouring the Winterian refugees, he marches on them, and it looks as though two kingdoms could be lost forever...
If you're someone who tosses books aside when they look as though they're going to follow basic YA tropes, please give 'Snow Like Ashes' a chance. Within the first fifty pages I grumbled and groaned, exasperated at the fact that Meira was in love with Mather, and that their love was forbidden because she was but a mere orphaned peasant and he was the future king. Then Theron was introduced - HELLO, LOVE TRIANGLE! It pushed me closer than I've ever been before to giving up on a book.
But I struggled through, and just a few pages later it became one of the most exciting and absorbing books that I've read this year. The love triangle is dissipated very quickly:
'There's no giddiness at holding his hand, none of the things I used to harbor for him. Mather is my king, my friend - my best friend - and I am his soldier.'which was absolutely brilliant - too many YA novels focus on the romance when there are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT EVENTS occurring in the background... Luckily Sara Raasch did not fall into that group of authors. There was a bit of a badly timed kissing sessions, but Theron thought that one or both of them might die - you can justify him wanting to kiss his lady in that situation.
Speaking of which: Meira and Theron actually ended up having feelings for each other! And not just because they were promised to each other (if it had been that it might have been a bit Stockholm Syndrome-y) but because he respected her and treated her like an equal, something she's hardly ever experienced in her life. Theron is a wonderful character. I wouldn't mind marrying Theron.
In all honesty, apart from the age of the protagonist (being only 16) and the very brief focus on the romance, I would have classified this more as an adult fantasy novel. There's rather a lot of murder - some of it being quite gruesome! - and compared to other books I've read that have been classified as adult fantasy (most recently, 'Queen of the Tearling') this is much more deserving of the adult label.
Sara has crafted such a brilliant world, and she's created such a wonderful backstory to go along with it. To start with I was getting a little bit lost - they were referring to female-blooded conduits and eight different kingdoms, and it was more than a tad overwhelming. However, Sara manages to explain it all in such a way that it's impossible to feel confused! The world is so developed and immersive, and very easy to understand.
If you're someone who feels apprehensive at the thought of fantasy, I'd sincerely suggest you check out this novel. I'd also say this is a great read for anyone who's looking for a strong female character who knows her own mind and isn't obsessed with the idea of a relationship - it's nice to have someone with better priorities!
If you're going to read 'Snow Like Ashes', though, you do need to be a fan of big twists. I always see the twists coming and I'm rarely ever surprised, but my jaw dropped and I was utterly and completely shocked at the turn in this tale.
I'm hoping to read the sequel, 'Ice Like Fire', as soon as I can - it's not available at my local library, so I'm probably going to order it for myself. I'm very excited to see what happens in this story, because there's so much potential and a very open ending.