Snow City

Thanks to the author for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review. For my full review policy, please click here.

“Staring through a rainy window at a little piece of heaven. Unwilling ever to fully participate in the paradise that surrounds her.”

Snow City Front CoverSnow City is – double meaning intended – dreamlike. Not quite surreal, not yet magical realism. In fact, I’m not sure the term ‘realism’ could at all be applied to this novel. The hazy quality is not disquieting though. But it does dull the senses.

Echo Japonica: Thirty-five. Unmarried. Living alone in self-imposed quarantine. One day she was surviving apocalyptic America. The next, she was in Snow City – her utopian dream world painstakingly perfected on nights dogged by desperation and despair. In Snow City, people are kind, children are loved, women are respected. But with a creator still haunted by a depraved reality, how safe can this shelter really be?

As tiresome as Echo’s diction became and as frivolous as her imagined name was, it was hard not to identify with her. This is a tad embarrassing to admit, but I often puzzle over the minute logistics and intricacies of my own imagined worlds – whether they be lifted from my favourite books or new ones I hope will one day make their way into my very own bestseller. Who wouldn’t trade the relative monotony of real life for an existence that redefines the impossible?

And so I had no difficulty immersing myself in Echo’s occasionally melodramatic prose (she has a particular penchant for repetition and ellipses). The plot, too, was intriguing – peppered with well-placed twists, some as bewildering as our protagonist’s predicament. I easily waded through these 240 pages in a single sitting.

The dreamlike tone, however, was a double-edged sword. It lulled me through the entire book, keeping me entangled (the usual ‘hooked’ is too sharp a word here) in the breakneck plot. But there were also frequent allusions to the horrors of the – our – real world, from which Echo escaped. Horrors made all the more horrible by the realisation that they are happening around us, right now. Horrors that we have become desensitised to because this is human nature, right? Snow City was not as immune as Echo had intended it to be either, so harrowing events plagued its coddled centre too. Yet – the emotional response these passages ought to have evoked was muffled by that persistent dreamlike tone. Even the moving moments felt oddly detached.

Despite its promising premise, Snow City also adamantly avoided the issues of reality, religion, death, authorship and creative control. More ‘mundane’ questions were left unanswered too: How did Echo get here? Why did Echo get here? In the end, the whole woke-up-in-her-literal-dream-world business had disappointingly little to do with the story. I know, I know, letting yourself let go and indulge was part of the point. But we still deserved more closure than this.

Overall, Snow City has an idiosyncratic – if a little insubstantial – charm. A quick, easy escape from reality.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Strange the Dreamer

sathaz (SAH·thahz) noun

The desire to possess that which can never be yours.
Archaic; from the Tale of Sathaz, who fell in love with the moon.

I can see why some readers gave this book one or two stars; I can also see why others lamented the far-flung heavens, whose infinite stars they can never pluck and give. Laini Taylor spins luminous descriptions, but she can, at times, be in want of some direction.

Strange the Dreamer has faint echoes of her best-known trilogy, with beautiful monsters and razor-sharp vengeance. But the thakrar (to use her conjured word) she inspires – her breath-catching capacity to dream up myths and worlds – surpasses even Eretz1 and its two moons. And not only dream up, but interweave the two into glittering motifs, resurfacing only at the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching moments. Like Sathaz, and his moon that broke into a thousand pieces. And Sarai, and her mind that breaks into a thousand pieces.

thakrar (THAH·krahr) noun

The precise point on the spectrum of awe at which wonder turns to dread, or dread to wonder.

Weep is truly alive under her pen; the characters’ hearts (plural) beat softly against the pages, against your fingertips. But Taylor’s talent for the whimsical is a double-edged sword. Strange the Dreamer is a slow burn, with verbal illustrations that slip too often into purple prose. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at several passages, and skimming many more. A shame, because the first two Daughter of Smoke and Bone novels had shown much more balance, and my inability to trudge through the final one had almost stopped me from reading this.

The characters, at least, were expertly crafted from tangles of raw emotions. My heart broke multiple times even for Minya, the most stubborn and sadistic of them all. And for Eril-Fane, who had slain a part of his soul on the day he had slain the gods. I certainly felt like Sarai, whose days were drowned in lull potions; I had gone to bed at 5 a.m. to finish the book first, and when I’d finally woken up, I’d looked like living death.

So you can imagine the sense of utter betrayal when [highlight to reveal spoiler] it all ended with a cliffhanger. Thank goodness this will only be a duology (unless Taylor pulls a Jenny Han), because I’m not sure I’d be able to cope with more tantalisation like that.

Pick up Strange the Dreamer if you want vibrant and tragic and fairy-tale and yes, bewitchingly strange. Only a truly gifted storyteller can reveal the end in her prologue and still manage to ensnare her readers so completely until they are released by her very last word, excessive descriptions and all. A gorgeous new series to rival her first.

Favourite quote: “A man should have squint lines from looking at the horizon,” the old librarian had said, “not just from reading in dim light.”
Rating:
4/5


1A universe in Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Gökotta

In just three weeks, I will be setting off for England for maybe the last time in a long while. And in two additional weeks, I will be sitting my final IB examinations, the occasion for which my entire secondary school life has been leading up to. Considering the breakneck pace at which everything seems to be flying by, I often envision a wave gathering height and momentum, only to break against rugged rocks on an unfamiliar shore. I know I sound terribly hyperbolic, but the murky depths of my uncertain future still cling to me, not least because the admissions decisions of two of my universities will not be made until our results are released.

The closer the examinations are getting, the more I simply withdraw to old pastimes (reading, writing) that had gathered dust since last summer, when internal assessments and the notorious Extended Essay began. The very fact that I am spending a considerable amount of time composing my thoughts for this post is proof of my latest bout of procrastination. I keep catching myself admonishing, is this really the time? What if these wasted hours cause me to lose an offer? But another voice reinforces the well-worn excuse that, like any self-respecting spring, I ought to relax now so that I will be able to effectively stretch myself when it will matter the most. As a dear friend once said to me, she told a professional marathon running sitting next to her on a flight back to Spain, “I’m running a marathon too! But it’s called the IB.”

I came across the Swedish word gökotta a week ago, when I was reflecting on my aspirations for the next stages of my life. It is impossible to translate, but roughly means to wake up early in the morning to hear the first birdsong. Immediately, the lush image of rolling out of a queen-sized bed in an airy lodge, gazing out of wooden windows at the vast expanse of the Tanzanian plains popped into my mind. The crown of the sun is just beginning to lick the horizon, and the clouds are still brushed with the colours of fine-spun candyfloss. This scene was what I had hoped to be experiencing in my early twenties, having settled into a stable, enjoyable career and acquired enough money to regularly travel on my own.

Other deliciously specific words that inspire similarly vivid daydreams flitted through my mind. Petrichor suggests exploring dense rainforests and stunning displays of unbridled vitality. Hygge conjures comfortable evenings in front of a crackling fire, winding down in a swanky high-rise apartment overlooking a sprawling, sleepless metropolis. Less glamorously, however, a word more applicable to my current predicament is probably kummerspeck – excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally translated from German, it means ‘grief bacon’, which actually sounds strangely appealing, like the melancholy lozenges in Because of Winn-Dixie.

I had always imagined my 25-year-old self to be financially independent, hopping from continent to continent and living in a penthouse in some cosmopolitan city or other. Looking back, these grandiose goals fuelled largely by enviable Instagram accounts seem infinitesimally unlikely. Of course, having the freedom and means to choose between universities spread over three continents, and having been in a position where those aspirations seemed to have the slightest possibility of coming true, are privileges that I should never take for granted. I probably sounded entitled, and for that I apologise.

Maybe our fairy-tale scenarios will never come to pass. But just like any other vague ambitions of a young teenager, you soon realise that there are much grander and more meaningful things that you will want to achieve and can definitely work towards – things that will give you much greater rewards a few decades down the line. Besides, who knows what the next step will bring anyway? We can only keep brewing more vorfreude as we look forwards at the road ahead.

Clouds

Clouds (creatively titled, I concede) was scribbled down almost two years ago, during a particularly lethargic English lesson. Looking back, the overwhelming stress that I had given myself is almost comical; compared to university applications and receiving admissions decisions, I really should have been more carefree.

They sing of silver lining;
That is but half the tune.
Our hopes and wishes, woven tight
Glow softly in the moon.
So yes, there is some truth –
Our limit is the sky. But
They grow heavy with our broken dreams
When thunderstorms are nigh.
So they drain their burdens onto our heads,
Cleansing, letting go the severed threads.
And now, a new beginning,
And new hopes may rise.

Hopefully the extended metaphor can ring true for a wide variety of situations. Despite having revisited this poem countless times, I still cannot make it flow exactly like how I had originally envisioned it. But as John E. Lewis once wrote, if not now, then when?