Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards

Title: A Hint of Frost
Author: Hailey Edwards
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (April 17, 2012)
Available: $3.85 at Samhain Publishing
Rating: 4 stars
Rater: Elle Hill

For a novel with such a chill throughout, the author’s lush writing provides an especially warm and welcome counterpoint. I found myself lulled by her rhythmic use of sentences, some long and textured and other short and sparse. Readers who enjoy minimalist writing with few descriptors would do better looking elsewhere for a fantasy fix; Edwards is a devout sensualist.

Like any good romance writer, Edwards puts the romance front and center and spins everything in the world around its primacy. That said, her story is smart and realistic, introducing characters and situations that she clearly intends to develop further over the course of several books. In this one, Lourdes, the main character, finds her parents poisoned and herself thrust into the role of leading her people during a time of war. Her first act as “maven”? Marrying herself to a clan that will protect hers.

The novel moves forward and derives its narrative tension from the defection/abduction of Lourdes’ sister, Pascale, and Lourdes’ determination to bring her home safely. She and her new consort embark on a journey to distant lands, all the while learning more about one another, a plague spreading across the lands, and the scope of their feelings for one another.

Even without the world-building Edwards does in this book, the story and characters are compelling; it’s comfortingly familiar, as romance novels should be, while introducing enough twists to keep the readers intrigued. Edwards’ strength, however, lies in her world-building. Edwards’ Araneae Nation features several clans, each of which specializes, not only occupationally but physiologically, in producing certain goods or services. The clans are separate but interdependent, each important but hierarchically situated. For examples, Lourdes’ clan, the Araneidae, weave silks and make clothing, while Rhys, her “partisan,” belongs to the cannibalistic warrior clan known as the Mimetidae. This interdependent clan arrangement might fall into a Hunger Games-esque patterns were it not for the very real physiological and cultural differences characterizing clan members. For example, depending on their clan heritage, characters in Edwards’ world may spin silk from their very own bodies or use their bites to inject venom into their prey. Edwards notes in her acknowledgements she researched various Native American tribes for inspiration, and it is most apparent in her choices of names, skills, and relationships among her clansfolk. As a sociologist, I found myself intrigued and impressed by the various traditions (thread-binding, for example) that Edwards constructed as growing organically from the structure of clan relationships.

My concerns with the book are somewhat small since overall, I found myself quite delighted. Edwards’ prose is effusive and her characters bold and vibrant. I was somewhat disappointed when she lapsed into the occasional modern American idioms and clichés. Of course, English is likely her first language, as it is mine, but clichés, colloquialisms, and idioms are verbal shortcuts and should be avoided in most literature; in fantasy realms, they become even more awkwardly visible. Words like “potshots,” “look a gift animal in the mouth,” and so on pulled me from the richness of the words and the story they built. They’re small concerns overall, but I found myself annoyed several times to have my attention yanked from the lushness of her prose.

My rating: Four out of five stars. This is a smartly written novel in the best tradition of romances that also includes enough fantasy staples and uniqueness to keep just about any reader spellbound.


(Note from Lauri: Yes; two of our reviewers read and reviewed this book - and both obviously loved it!)

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