Web of Frost by Lindsay Smith (Saints of Russalka #1)
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Eventide Press on February 13, 2018
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
A too-young queen must learn to control her powers in order to save her empire, but can she trust the only person who’s taught her to use her gift?View Spoiler »
Russalka is a proud empire, frozen and vast, protected for centuries by a royal family who works miracles from the saints. But rebellion stirs in the streets, and its war-hungry neighbors threaten to invade. The young princess Katza has been tormented by visions of her bloodied hands destroying Russalka—a clear message from the saints that she must never rule. So when tragedy places her next in line to the throne, Katza fears their warnings are on the verge of coming true.
Then she meets Ravin, a mysterious young prophet with visions of his own: visions of Katza as a regal empress with unimaginable power. All she has to do seize upon the holy magic of her bloodline. But the more Ravin whispers in her ear, the more Katza begins to wonder whether he has her best interests at heart. With a revolution boiling over and war looming at the border, the greatest threat to Russalka may be Katza herself. « Hide Spoiler
Lindsay Smith’s WEB OF FROST is the first in a new YA fantasy series inspired by the events of the Russian Revolution. Fans of character-driven stories, take note!
Russalka is a nation of harsh climes and even harsher royal dictates: the Silovs, the tsar and his family, rule with an iron fist and the otherworldly powers granted to them by the saints. After the death of the heir-apparent, young tsarechka Katza is next in line for the throne…but she has neither been raised to rule nor does she have the saints’ favour. With the threat of war looming and open rebellion brewing in Russalka, Katza must quickly learn to harness the saints’ power if she is to save her country, and herself.
Perhaps the greatest strength – and weakness – of WEB OF FROST is Katza herself, for she’s equal parts compelling and infuriating. Raised in a society that condescends to women, shut out of the politics of her own country, and constantly told that she’s not strong enough to wield the saints’ gifts, it’s little wonder that Katza has low self-esteem. She’s easily manipulated and taken advantage of by those around her, easy prey for a handsome, charismatic young prophet named Ravin. While somewhat painful to see, it was realistic and I understood why Katza responded well to Ravin’s flattery and influence; Katza’s poor decision making was actually pretty compelling, I just wish that she had made more proactive decisions herself rather than responding to circumstances only when forces to by necessity.
Katza’s reluctance to make a choice about the kind of ruler she wants to be is made more pronounced by the plodding pace of the story. WEB OF FROST suffers from uneven pacing and a serious case of “set up book” syndrome, wherein most of the plot seems to be devoted to setting up events that won’t unfold until later on in the series. I suspect that the secondary characters will also play a greater role in the sequel, particularly Nadika, a solemn and duty-bound warrior who acts as Katza’s personal guard. She was my favourite character, so fingers crossed she gets more page time in the sequel!
While I enjoyed the characters, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the world building in WEB OF FROST. The magical powers accessed via the saints of Russalka are powerful and interesting, with each ability being associated with a specific saint; but the actual mechanics of that magic is never explained. Katza spends a considerable amount of time developing her connection to the saints and exploring her powers, but I still couldn’t tell you exactly what she changed to make them start working for her after a lifetime of uncooperative magics. That said, the conclusion of WEB OF FROST implies that the magic system will be further developed in the sequel.
Overall, Lindsay Smith’s WEB OF FROST is a solid YA fantasy that will please historical fiction readers and those looking for a character-driven read. If you’re hoping for complex world building, you may want to look elsewhere.