So over the weekend, I finished Followed by Frost (whose copy-for-review is/could still be available on netgalley). Over on her blog, the author writes about how this is her sixth novel and that “this is my first Young Adult book, my first 1st-person POV novel, and the first thing I’ve ever written for a female audience (as opposed to both genders)” (well, if guys can read Twilight and enjoy it, I’m sure they can read this one, heh). For a first in all these things, it’s not bad. I haven’t read any of her other works, though they are mostly in the realm of epic fantasy, I believe… (why haven’t I heard of her before??? It’s true, it’s all true. I live in a cave!). I noted the existence of Followed by Frost during my various perusals through the netgalley selections, but I didn’t go for it because I’m a bit romanced-out. I love romance—and sometimes I feel like I must have it in everything. But, lately, I’ve been reading stories where the romantic elements feel contrived and forced into stories, all of which has inevitably forced me to take a self-imposed romance-free diet and clear the air of melodrama for a while. But, hey, this one was surprisingly sweet and gave me no tooth ache after!
Written with a poetic beauty and cadence evocative of the lands of ice and sand in which the story lives, C. N. Holmberg’s Followed by Frost is a fairytale-like story of a girl who discovers how to bring out the true warmth within her powerful enough to unfreeze her cold, bespelled heart. The story contains fantastical elements—a magical curse, a scorned wizard, a journey to a distant land—but like any good fairytale, it beats because of the love story at its heart. The love between our heroine, Smitha, and her love interest blooms slowly like the fingers of an ice flower creeping across a windowpane, looking so fragile—like a puff of warm breath could melt it away. Ultimately, the warmth that Smitha fears to let into her heart will be her salvation. The whole story is very introspective and slow-moving in its unfurling drama, with Smitha often left to her own thoughts. Only she can unburden her own spirit from the righteous anger she has against the spurned wizard admirer who punished her cruelty with an equally cruel curse. Aside from being a palpitating page-turner of a romance, Followed by Frost paints a compelling portrait of a girl’s transformation and redemption as she grows into womanhood.
I was charmed by this story and felt a genuine-ness about Smitha’s voice that I haven’t experienced in a while. I didn’t like how she treated poor Mordan, though honestly back in my teenage years I’ve been equally guilty of employing similar cowardly avoidance tactics to send a message to a guy whose “affections” I didn’t return when it would just be easier to tell him (in a nice way) to his face and endure the cringe all in one blow. Ah. Silly, epic, teenage love. Anyway, the whole avoiding the guy at dinner, hating his mopey dog eyes etc. was still entertaining, but also, damn, when Mordan finally expressed his love for her, she was harsh! I’m a bit of a sensitive soul so I was really feeling sorry for Mordan (heart-wrenching rejections like that always remind me of that scene from Anne of the Island when Anne makes Gilbert’s blood drain from his face and my heart really really hurts for the guy….). Smitha is harsh. I mean, check it out:
“Surely a toad could hold my interest longer, and be more pleasant to look at!…We live on different levels of life, Mordan Alteraz, mine far higher than yours. The sooner you realize that, the better off you will be. I do not care one ounce for you, and I never will. That is why I didn’t go to the dock, and why no sensible woman ever would!”
Crack! Slap! Bash! *whimper*
In this case, however, Mordan strikes back with a vengeance, revealing the kind of icky hurt that drives a person to spill venom from their hearts. After that I no longer felt sorry for him. Even though Smitha was a royal bitch at that moment, she did not deserve what was coming. In the end, however, the curse was the opportunity—in some ways a short cut, even—to growing a bigger heart than the one she had before. It forced her to polish her inner self and turn her selfish gaze outward. With no one to care about or love her cursed self, she is forced into a humbled life on the brink of death and loneliness with no rescue in sight. Turns out only she can rescue herself. I can definitely admire a person who has the courage to look inward and face the ugliness that can be in there and emerge from that journey even more brilliant than before.
So, captivating characters, satisfying and authentic character growth, and wonderful, lyrical prose—what is missing to make this a 5 out of 5? I wanted to know more about the fantasy flavors of the story! I wanted to know more about the wizards and where they came from, and how they operate. But these things were only very very faintly hinted in the story. I wanted to know more about Mordan himself. What is his background? Why did he end up in Smitha’s village? What drove him from his homeland? I wanted to know more about Death. Aside from being an intriguing asshole-y hat-wearin’ guy with a devil-may-care debonair sort of personality, who the heck is he? An immortal god? Another cursed wizard? There were a lot of questions left unanswered which I feel could have enriched the story. I haven’t heard a whisper of whether Followed by Frost is one in many more books to come that explores that world, so I have a feeling my questions may never be answered. Boo 😦
And to those fearing a Frozen-esque story, don’t you worry. Aside from frost/snow/ice following her everywhere, the story bears little resemblance to the iconic Disney movie. Aside from the symbolism of a frozen heart, there is also little resemblance to the Snow Queen fairytale as far as I can tell…
Rating this one 4.5 rock cold honey taffies a cold-hearted girl can’t eat.
Here’s a quote from the first time Smitha and Death converse:
“We meet again,” he said, speaking in old Angrean. His voice sounded like warmed molasses.
My body grew so cold—so terribly cold—that every breath raked burning trails down my throat and lungs. My knees and elbows locked. It was as if the very sight of him had turned me into an ice statue, half-carved and immobile in the heavy block of my foundation.
The light seemed to bend around him as he stepped to the side of the fire. The black of his cloak appeared never ending: a deep pit with no floor, or dark sky with no moon or stars. His amber eyes glowed almost th way a cat’s would.
They were narrow, searching eyes set above a long nose and wide mouth, which curved at the ends in the hint of a smile. His face looked ageless and smooth—a carving of alabaster.
“Have you…come to kill me?” I asked in flawed Angrean. My voice quavered with my question.
To my surprise, he threw back his head and laughed. I jumped, horrified by the idea of Death finding the prospect of my demise amusing.
He collected himself and answered, “I see I can pass on the introductions.”
Somehow I found the strength to crawl away from him, backwards, until the thick trunk of the oak tree blocked my escape. Its roots glimmered with frost under my hands. “You are death.”