Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
Unexpected in all of the best ways. I picked this up because I basically read as many fairy tale retellings as possible, it's my preferred genre. And it works as a retelling of Snow White, but also as a standalone fantasy novel with extremely solid world building. As a matter of fact, it's some of the best, most thoughtful world building I've seen in YA since the days of Anne McCaffery. Not to heavy on the political, a la A Song of Ice and Fire, but not just throwing everything out there and seeing what sticks without explanation either.
But what surprised me the most was the slow burn of the romance, which doesn't even show up until literally halfway through the novel and handles it with maturity and pacing that a short book like this usually convinces you that it can't afford. It's actually about them getting to know each other, fancy that! And the death of an important character is handled so sensitively, and the subject of grief, which is something I know too much about lately, is extremely well written and developed on the page.
Tone-wise, it's somewhere between Snow White and the Huntsman and TV's Once Upon a Time, and obviously influenced by both. I've also seen it compared to the Grisha Trilogy, though Redwine actually seems aware of Slavic and Teutonic culture and mythology past the casual use of a name or word.
Also refreshing to see black characters that are just called 'black' and not described as having 'warm brown skin' or other descriptors I see white authors use a lot, though the characters in question tend to fall into trope-y roles in the book: Gabril = the caretaker, the nursemaid, if you will; Trugg = the brutish, large, sexually overactive male. Etc.
The book isn't perfect, but its good elements were so strong, I probably gave it a higher rating just because it felt so refreshing. There are some drawbacks. The beginning seemed rushed and confusing; I didn't realize that the queen and Irina had been sisters, and when it was brought up,I still didn't quite understand what was happening. I couldn't fault the book for getting to the meat of the story as quickly as possible, but I could have read an extra twenty pages if it let me understand more clearly what was happening.
I will definitely be reading more of Redwine's work in the future!