By Sara Raasch
Winter is saved, Meira is queen, and Angra has been defeated. It would seem like a fairytale ending, except that things are never quite so simple. Pressured by Cordell to find the magical Chasm hidden somewhere in Winter’s mountains, worried for her country’s future and still plagued by fear that Angra may come back, Meira doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. When the Chasm is found and she is sent on a mission to find a way to open it, she decides to use the opportunity to gather valuable allies for Winter and possibly unlock the key to saving them all.
Listen. I’m a pretty negative person most of the time. I like to complain. So even though I tend to give overwhelmingly negative comments on this blog, there’s still a big chunk of these books that I actually like. So while I’m about to tear this book apart, know that I did enjoy reading quite a bit. Ice Like Fire has a lot of the same problems as its predecessor, Snow like Ashes, but it also kept its strong points: a fun read with mostly engaging characters and an intriguing mystery.
The worldbuilding has expanded a bit, without feeling any more cohesive than it used to – kingdoms are homogenous, cultures change the second you reach a border and no one has so much as a dialect. I was a little disappointed in what Winter’s culture turned out to be, mostly because for a kingdom who’s supposedly defined by its mines and metalwork, none of that is on display. We’re left with a kingdom so bland everything in it is literally white.
I mean, how cool would it have been to see a Winter dripping in multi-colored gems, with intricate metal jewelry and armor in a thousand shapes, foundries and factories pumping out tools and weapons and machines? To have Meira wear white as a statement; to have her arrive in Ventralli or Yakim arrayed only in diamonds, white on white on white, standing out against the array of colours all around her to proclaim Winter is back, and I am its queen, and nothing will mar it.
Instead we just get white, a bit of blue, and a disturbing amount of wood for a country where it’s winter all the time. Where does all this wood come from? Are you importing it? Where’s all that stone and metal you’re supposedly famous for? I mean, I know you’re poor as shit at this point but you can’t even mention it? With so many characters reminiscing about the past glory of Winter you’d think we’d at least get that: show us an intricate iron archway rusted by the years or a formerly emerald-encrusted door vandalized by enemy soldiers or something. Anything.
Meira is back, and while I still like being in her head – far more than in Mather’s, actually – she hasn’t grown out of her need for outside validation. This time, instead of wavering between wanting to be valued for who she is rather than what she represents, Meira struggles between the refugee soldier she was raised to be and the diplomatic queen her previous life has not prepared her for in the slightest. It’s an interesting dilemma, trying to find a middle ground between one’s desires and responsibilities, and it would be even better if it didn’t feel so recycled from the last book.
Mather is in many ways the low point of the book for me. I was interested to get a new POV and intrigued that it would be Mather, the formerly decoy-king of Winter and the other half of the lie Meira was living. How did he feel about this new identity being thrust upon him? The ending of the first book suggested he wasn’t happy about Meira being queen, and I was eager to see what was really going on in this boy’s head.
The answer? Anger. At everything and everyone.
That wouldn’t be a terrible thing on its own – Mather has reason to be angry at his parents for lying to him, Meira for taking the place he always thought was his, Cordell for forcing Winter into devastating trade deals, the older winterians for allowing the war against Spring to end in defeat, the world in general for handing him a home he can’t relate to, and himself for failing to live up to his own expectations. But he’s so devoid of self-reflection that he mostly comes across as unpleasant and whiny. And the narrative portrays him as right.
He’s angry that Meira is being forced into a difficult role and convinced that he’s the only one who can understand the pressures she’s under – but she likes another boy, so he’ll just ignore her and refuse to help until she comes to her senses. It’s okay though, she’ll realize that her boyfriend is secretly evil and that she should have been with Mather all along! What kind of bullshittery is this?
But despite all this complaining, I still enjoyed reading this. It was an easy, breezy read just like the first one and darn it, I want to know how it ends!