The After Word: Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy

Greetings and salutations all you lovely bookies. By which I mean people who like books, not people who take bets and break kneecaps when someone can’t pay up. Although I suppose if that kind of bookie is here, hello to you too, and also why are you here? Anyway! It’s Nikkie here, typing up a bunch of words about Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy.

I wish there were a different name with which to refer to the trilogy, by the way; it seems weird to call it by the name of the first book. I suppose it could be called the Primoria trilogy, as that is the name of the world (continent) in (on) which it’s set . . . But since I don’t think that’s the convention, I probably won’t use it so that no one gets confused! (It is now my headcanon though.)

As I’ve recently finished the final book in the series, Frost Like Night, I was planning to blog about it when I realized that I haven’t talked about the first two books (beyond bringing up the series in my review of A Torch Against the Night). I may have mentioned one or the other back when the blog was Lit’s Not Dead, but as that no longer counts, I should probably talk about the series as a whole. As such, there will be spoilers—fairly heavy spoilers for the whole kit and kaboodle. So, as always, if you care about that kind of thing, get the heck on out of here!

The rest of you: follow me! I’m going to start with a synopsis of the three books, and then go into my personal thoughts after that.


First, a little backstory.

Raasch’s trilogy takes place in Primoria, as stated earlier, which is broken up into eight kingdoms/regions: four Seasons and four Rhythms. The Seasons are named as you would expect (with the capitals being differently spelled versions of each season’s most prominent month—Oktuber, Juli, Jannuari, Abril); the Rhythms are Yakim, Ventralli, Paisly, and Cordell. There is a long-standing prejudice against each other within the two types of kingdom because of magic.

Within this universe, magic exists in a giant, electric ball in a chasm in the mountains behind the Seasons. People could go there and leave an item to become imbued with magic; when they retrieved it, they could use said magic until the item ran out of power. Eventually, the entrance to the chasm of magic is lost. The Rhythms blame the Seasons for this, considering it happened in their backyard, and the Seasons didn’t appreciate that; thus the prejudices.

But before that, when people had unlimited access to the chasm, some used this magic for nefarious purposes. This created a darkness called the Decay, which would infect people and cause them to use magic for evil even more, thus feeding the Decay, etc etc. So the leaders of the kingdoms decided to destroy all the magical items created up to that point and instead imbue eight items (called conduits) with huge sources of magic that would then be passed down either through the female or male line of the kingdom, thus giving monarchs control of magic for their entire kingdom and the ability to drive away the Decay. King Angra of Spring, however, allowed the last bit of the Decay to infect him and grow within him. (This makes him immortal, which apparently no one figured out until this series takes place, but whatever.) He eventually decides to try and rule the world, starting with Winter.

Snow Like Ashes

Our story begins sixteen years after Angra’s takeover, following a teenaged girl named Meira and the small group of Winterian refugees she travels with:

  • Mather: The male heir to Winter, a kingdom where magic is passed through the women; there are romantic feelings between him and Meira, but his status means there’s no future for the pair
  • William, aka Sir: A Winterian general who commands this band of refugees; Meira craves his affection, but he doesn’t offer it up
  • Alysson: Sir’s wife; a bit more maternal that Sir is paternal
  • Dendera: She doesn’t like fighting, but that doesn’t mean she can’t
  • Henn: Dendera’s SO who is one of the greatest Winterian soldiers
  • Finn: Another great soldier
  • Greer: The oldest Winterian in the group

They are on the hunt for the pieces of Winter’s conduit, a locket. When they get intel on the whereabouts of one half, Mather fakes an injury so Meira can go on the mission in his stead—he knows how desperately she wants to prove herself. She DOES manage to get her hands on the locket piece, though she is briefly captured by Angra’s general, Herod. Her return is less than triumphant, though, because a group of Spring soldiers followed her back to camp. The Winterians are forced to split up, with the Rhythm kingdom of Cordell being their destination.

Cordell’s king, Noam, is willing to help the Winterians if they give him something in return: once Mather is restored to his throne, he will raise Meira to noble status and she will be married off to Theron, Noam’s son and prince of Cordell. Neither Theron nor Meira are super into this (though an attraction is not lacking between them), but sometimes you have to close your eyes and think of England. Meanwhile, Meira begins having dreams about Winter’s past, and Hannah, the dead Winterian queen, begins speaking to her through these dreams.

Eventually, it is discovered that Noam was going to sell them out to Angra, but this backfires because Angra attacks Cordell. During the battle, which Meira sneaks into, she sees Sir killed. She grabs onto his dead body, a freezing cold sweeping through her (which she attributes to her extreme emotion, as Winterians are naturally predisposed to cold), but she gets captured by Herod, who remembers her from the locket incident.

In Hannah dreams that Meira has on the way to the prisoner camp in Abril, she learns the backstory I shared earlier: the way the Decay worked, how the royal conduits were created to destroy it, how Angra saved it. She also learns of Hannah’s sacrifice in an attempt to save Winter.

In the camp, Meira meets a hopeful Winter girl named Nessa and her two brothers. Nessa believes that Meira will finally be the one to free them from this prison; her brothers doubt it. Meira, spurred by the hope that still surges through the captured Winterians, enacts a plan to bring down one of the work ladders, killing a bunch of Spring soldiers. She’s found out, and when a Winterian boy steps in to defend her from a Spring soldier, he is whipped. Meira cradles him, that same freezing cold sweeping over her, and everyone is shocked when the boy leaves her arms completely healed. Meira has magic!

She’s brought before Angra, who tries to figure out how she’s using it. He tries to probe her mind, but Hannah protects her while revealing the truth: Meira is Hannah’s daughter. (Duh.) Mather is actually Sir and Alysson’s son; they agreed to raise him as the faux heir because a male heir to a line that passes magic through the women is less of a target (though still a target). And because of the sacrifices Hannah made to save Winter, Meira herself is the conduit for Winter’s magic, not the locket. (This makes the magic much more powerful.)

Meira finds out that Theron is being held prisoner because he tried to rescue her after her kidnapping. Angra orders Herod to torture the both of them, but Meira kills Herod and they escape to meet up with their respective parties. Then, Cordellan and Autumn forces arrive at the gates (Noam’s sister married the Autumn king, so they willingly joined the cause against Angra). Through Meira, Hannah lets Winterians know who her true heir is, and they rise to battle. Sir is among them, alive because Meira’s magic managed to save him. However, because she hasn’t had a chance to explain how conduit magic works to anyone else, she can’t stop Sir and Mather from destroying Angra’s staff-conduit, which they think will kill him. He DOES disappear, leaving them open to free all the camp prisoners and finally head back to Winter so they can rebuild their kingdom, but Meira knows that they haven’t seen the last of him.

Ice Like Fire

Three months after SLA‘s end, it’s a whole new world in Winter. Meira is trying to adjust to life as a queen. While her engagement to Theron was dissolved by Noam, it was done under the guise that Winter owes Cordell a lot and its debts are enough of a reason for Noam to try and sink his claws into it. As Meira deals with that, Mather (who gets his own POV chapters now) is adjusting to no longer being Winter’s king. Not that he misses it; there are few feelings worse than being the useless male heir to a female-carried line of magic. But the burden he once shouldered now lies with Meira—plus they STILL can’t get together because their status difference is still prominent. Also, Theron is still buzzing around, hoping that Meira will want to marry him of her own volition now, so Mather has to deal with that. And he’s super mad at Sir and Alysson for not being the parents he needed.

Part of Noam’s repayment conditions includes the reopening of Winterian mines because, in addition to the usual riches within, he also wants to find the chasm of magic. Lo and behold, its entrance is discovered, but there is a barrier that keeps anyone, even Meira, from entering. She doesn’t feel that badly about it; she’s not so sure a renewed access to magic is what Primoria needs, given the history of the Decay and Angra’s still-felt presence. Theron, who has been acting a little strangely since his time as Angra’s captive, disagrees; isn’t it better if everyone has magic to defeat any future great evil? On the other side of the barrier is a door with three key holes, so clearly somewhere in Primoria lies three corresponding keys; but where?

A symbol on the door leads Meira to believe that a group called the Order of Lustrate hid the keys, and Theron deciphers the symbols within that symbol to determine which kingdoms are the Xs that mark the spots. Meira decides to embark on a mission to find the keys and forge alliances between Winter and other kingdoms—then maybe she can get enough support to force Cordell out of her kingdom for good. Theron wants to join because he believes a peace treaty between all the kingdoms is necessary when they open the chasm. Noam says Meira is free to try and get support for her cause . . . but if she returns to Winter without a way to open the chasm, he will take her kingdom by force.

The treaty/key mission takes them from the neighboring Autumn to the Rhythm kingdom of Ventralli. Meira and co. are joined by the Summer royal family: conduit-wielder King Simon and his sister Princess Ceridwen, who hates him because of the way he uses magic to manipulate their subjects and the fact that he’s been buying slaves from the Yakimian queen.

Meanwhile, Mather has been spending his time training new Winterian soldiers. He quickly becomes attached to a group of young former prisoners who begin calling themselves the Children of the Thaw—since they grew up outside of Winter’s frozen embrace, they don’t truly feel at home there. Left behind in Winter, the Thaw is front and center for Cordell taking swift advantage of Meira’s absence. Suddenly, Winterians are no longer allowed to train in combat. When Alysson tries to sneak some weapons to the Thaw, who have continued to train in secret, she is murdered, and Cordell officially seizes control.

Meira’s search for the keys proves fruitful. One of the keys was in Summer, but Theron takes it from her for supposed safe keeping. The second key was in Yakim, which Meira and Ceridwen find with the help of a mysterious librarian named Rares. It is determined that Paisly holds the final key.

Once the traveling party reaches Ventralli, though, everything goes to shit. First, there’s relationship drama: it turns out that Ceridwen and the conduit-wielding king of Ventralli, Jesse, had a long-standing affair that she ends because he won’t fight for her. Then, Jesse offers to align with Winter if Meira will help him overthrow his untrustworthy wife, Raelyn so he can be with Cerie. Then, Meira discovers that the only way to rid the world of magic is to sacrifice a conduit to the chasm—meaning she will have to die. Then, Cerie decides now is the perfect time to murder her brother to break his toxic hold over their people. But before she can do that, Raelyn murders him with the help of . . . ANGRA! Mather and the Thaw show up, Angra reveals himself, and it’s discovered that his Decay has been festering in Theron this entire time, bending him to Angra’s will.

In the end, Theron kills Noam and Raelyn seizes control of Ventralli. When leading Meira and Mather to prison, Theron has a brief moment of non-Decayed clarity; he lets them escape. Rares appears, revealing that he is a member of the Order of Lustrate, and tells Meira he will take her to Paisly.

Frost Like Night

The series finale begins right after ILF‘s concluding events. Rares and Meira are fleeing Ventralli; while doing so, Rares opens up about the history of Paisly. It turns out Paislians figured out early on that magic isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, but when they overthrew their queen, they ended up becoming human conduits like Meira. Since then—which was a long time ago given the immortality aspect of being a conduit—they’ve been looking for a conduit-wielder who would be willing to help them destroy magic. In the meantime, SURPRISE: they hid the entrance to the chasm. So the Season-Rhythm rivalry that stemmed from losing access to the magic source was all the fault of a Rhythm kingdom. But, that doesn’t matter now, not when Angra is spreading his Decay throughout the kingdoms. All Meira cares about is receiving training, at the hands of Rares and his wife, to finally control her magic and potentially defeat Angra. (They also give her the third key.)

Mather, during all this, has freed all the Winterians imprisoned in the aftermath of Raelyn’s takeover. While they try to make their escape, Jesse’s mother intercepts them and offers help if they agree to save Jesse and his children. Jesse has other things in mind, though; he wants to save Ceridwen, who he knows is a target of his vengeful and now Decay-powerful wife (and also Cerie gets her own POV chapters). Mather takes one of the Thaw, Phil, with him and Jesse while the rest of the Winterians are told to find a refugee camp that Cerie set up for Yakim slaves she helped free. When Jesse figures out where Cerie is (she’s been rescued by the Yakim queen), Mather and Phil decide to go after Meira. However, they’re immediately caught by Angra. He DOES deliver them to Paisly’s doorstep . . . after torturing Phil and giving Mather a deadly beat-down so that Meira gets the message: Don’t mess with Angra.

When Meira’s training is complete, which includes the knowledge that she must take two people with her through the barrier and the fact that there will be three trials to endure before reaching the chasm, she transports Mather, Phil, and herself to the general vicinity of the refugee camp. They learn that Cerie took a group of soldiers into Summer to assassinate Angra, who was holding court there. Meira rushes to stop them, but the plan backfires anyway. Angra publicly gives the other two keys to Theron because he thinks this is the easier way to lure Meira into a trap, given their romantic history.

Everyone—the Yakimian and Winterian refugees, Meira, Mather, Cerie, and Jesse and his children—travels to Autumn, where they are welcomed by the king and queen (the latter, you’ll remember, being Theron’s aunt). Autumn intends to join the fight, but first: a wedding! Cerie, who had been pushing Jesse away as punishment for waiting so long to make her a priority, decides that life may end up being shorter than either of them would like, so wouldn’t it be better if they died happy? She and Jesse get married, which pushes Meira and Mather to finally act on their feelings. The next day, though, Phil (who had gone missing on the trip from the refugee camp to Autumn) arrives with Decay-controlled soldiers. It turns out he had been infected with the Decay, and because Meira kept forgetting to use her magic to cleanse him (which was a thing), he fell prey to it. The battle is brief but devastating (RIP Nessa).

The battle is set to take place on the border between Winter and Autumn; with the entrance to the mine in Winter, it was only natural that Angra post his army there to try and stop Meira from reaching it. Cerie and the Autumn king lead their combined forces against Angra while Meira, Mather, and Sir retrieve the keys from Theron and travel beyond the barrier. They make it through the first two trials without incident, but the third trial proves too much for Sir. A manifestation of Hannah appears; in order to pass through to the chasm, each member in the party must forgive her for the pain her actions caused. Sir, however, cannot forgive her, and he dies as the room collapses.

Meira and Mather make it to the chasm. She tries to get him to run for an exit that appears, but instead, he grabs her hand; he is willing to die with her. However, Angra was waiting on the other side of the exit, Theron in tow, so a big fight takes place. Meira must only use her magic in defensive maneuvers, so as not to contribute to the Decay, and Mather uses magic-infused rocks to make his fight with Theron an even match, eventually managing to overpower him without killing him.

Now, here’s the important part that the book’s conclusion hinges on: at the end of ILF, Theron threw aside the Cordellan conduit—a sword—because his access to the Decay meant he no longer needed it. Mather winds up with it. During an encounter with Angra in FLN, Theron sees that Mather has his sword and tells him that he can keep it. This sword is still in Mather’s possession during this chasm fight. Can you see where it’s going?

Meira gets her hands on the sword and drives it through Angra’s heart, willing Mather with what she assumes is her last bit of magic to take Theron and run for the exit as she and Angra plummet into the chasm. The mountain explodes as magic leaves this world once and for all . . . and Meira is still alive because Theron’s sword was accepted as the conduit sacrifice, and the force of that acceptance throws her from the chasm. (Angra was disintegrated because no one can withstand the full power of the magic source, so the Decay is gone forever as well.)

The book ends with an epilogue. The now entirely magicless Season and Rhythm leaders are convening in Cordell, at a repentant Theron’s request, to really give a peace treaty a chance.


Thus ends my synopsis of the trilogy. Still with me? Good!

When it comes to my thoughts about Raasch’s series, the most prominent one is: THIS IS WHY I DON’T DO LOVE SHAPES! Because I instantly wanted Theron to be the guy that Meira chose. I’m really not into the idea of Meira and Mather. I don’t find their love romantic; it’s obvious. Of course each of them falls for the only other person who was their age growing up. That’s not love; that’s convenience. They’re basically every relationship I ever had in high school, where I dated whichever guy I was closest friends with at the time because hormones + proximity = the perception of love. But Meira and Mather are even worse because at least I had options. From the time they were babies to the time they were 17, they were each other’s only hope for love (and, let’s be honest, sex). So when Theron showed up (being all sexy and sensitive and equally upset about the marriage pact), I was like “PICK HIM, BISH!” When he goes after her in SLA, and when they share a very moving kiss after escaping Herod’s grasp, I was done.
However, I had no disillusions about the fate of my man Theron. It is rare that, in a love shape, the decison-maker goes with the newbie. The Mather-Meira OTP of it all was clear as day from the first interaction we see between them (which is basically the first thing seen). So, upon finishing SLA, I was very salty; was Raasch going to attempt to string me along throughout the remaining books, or was my #TeamTheron heart going to get crushed early on? The reveal that Theron was under Angra’s control throughout the second book didn’t truly surprise me because, while I hadn’t been expecting that exact scenario, I had already braced myself for his demise. Throughout FLN, I was just upset because Theron’s feelings for Meira were always real; they were just being twisted into a dirty, hateful thing by Angra’s Decay. I couldn’t root for Meira and Mather (though I will admit that their hooking up had me feeling some type of way when it actually went down) because Theron was never given a real shot. Meira even says it outright: Theron never had her full heart simply because he wasn’t Mather. BOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

There was one other thing that I just couldn’t get behind with the series. Initially, I was happy that Raasch didn’t fall in the ∼Fantasy Naming Convention∼ trap that so sticks in Super Hubs’s craw—too many apostrophes and a lack of vowels that lead to barely comprehensible character names that are an attempt to show how different from our world/realm the story’s setting is. But the SLA trilogy’s lack of this was quickly undercut by the ∼Fantasy Vernacular∼ trap. It’s all “Freezing snow” this and “Snow above” that. I couldn’t read something like that without thinking “Just say ‘Damn it!’ or ‘For fuck’s sake!’ We all know what you mean anyway.” Given that Raasch was comfortable letting some PG-13 hormonal thoughts pop up every now and again, the weather-based exclamations just felt sanitized. It was especially weird because it didn’t seem like the Rhythm kingdoms had weird Rhythm-specific turns of phrase. Either fully commit or just let everyone speak normally!

All that aside, it wasn’t a bad series. The trilogy is a fun, quick read that manages to stay afloat in a market saturated by “magical lady savior” YA trilogies. It’s not the best (because Sabaa Tahir and her Emberling series would definitely win in a face-off, in my opinion), but it’s not the worst either. Raasch doesn’t do anything that is an unwelcome surprise; her characterizations feel consistent, and while her world-building leaves me wanting a little bit more, I enjoyed the glimpses into its inner workings that were provided.
With SLA being the first book Raasch ever wrote, I consider the entire trilogy her debut as a writer. So grading on that curve, as I always do, I think she has a solid future. I would definitely buy her next venture with a sense of anticipation (as opposed to the begrudging obligation I feel whenever Chuck Klosterman puts out a new book . . . More on that in an entirely different, far-in-the-future blog post).

Also, writing the synopses made me realize that it follows a similar hero’s journey as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, especially in the second and third books. So many parallels: secret royalty, said secret royalty having to fight to save their kingdom, rivalries among the major regions, magic items that shape the fate of the world, a lot of travelling in the second book, and a finale that sees the destruction of the most prominent magic item (or, in Raasch’s case, magic outright) in order to bring peace to the world. Obviously there are quality differences between the two, which applies whether you like the LOTR books or not. Tolkien’s tale is obviously more detailed, but Rassch’s storytelling is more accessible (and probably less racist). There’s also a lack of magical creatures and entities in Raasch’s world, so depending on how you feel about that, you may or may not want to pick it up.

Oh! I forgot to mention this earlier, but something that made me pumped up for ILF is the fact that Raasch used the story-sharing site Wattpad to distribute a story that introduced Ceridwen and Summer as a character and location. It was cool to see another region of Primoria so prominently, not to mention another lady (because SLA is full of dudes), and knowing that Ceridwen would affect the actual books going forward made me excited to see how her story would weave into the ongoing tale. I think that more authors should do this (provided it’s plausible with the stories they’re telling, of course). The wait for the next book in a series can be so torturous, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t like reading excerpts of an upcoming book because then I never know if I should just skip over that part once I have my hands on the full thing. This seems like a fun solution!


Anyway! If you need any other kind of final say about the series, I will leave you with this: I plan to reread it.

May your TBR piles tower but never topple,
Nikkie

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