3 out of 5 stars
I received an ARC of the second book
Spoiler alert for the first book.
The world invented for this book is really neat. There are eight major kingdoms in the land, 4 seasons and 4 rhythms. The seasons are named after the seasons and are all eternally stuck weather wise in their namesake. Our protagonist is from Winter. The 4 rhythm kingdoms (not named after musical rhythms as far as I can tell) get the full complement of seasons, but each have a national interest/ characteristic that is determined by their ruler. For example, one is mostly concerned with rational thinking and has a lot of libraries and universities.
Magic within the land is controlled by the 8 rulers, with each kingdom needing a gender-specific ruler to wield their object of power. With the magic, the ruler can give his/ her kingdom and its citizens strength and good fortune and lead them in battle if need be. The sovereign can also keep the people mostly concerned with a certain type of life, so the ruler of the kingdom who enjoys rationality can make her citizens more studious.
When the first book opens, Winter has been attacked and its citizens enslaved by Spring. Meira is part of a very small band of escaped refugees who managed to sneak her and the crown prince out during the initial massacre when they were infants and they are all trying to get their kingdom back. Their main concern is getting the locket that connects their ruler to magic back. The invading army and their king Angra killed most of the royal family and snapped the locket in half, hiding one half around Spring/Winter and the other half around Angra’s neck. Once the locket is together, they hope to gain allies amongst some of the other kingdoms and march against Spring.
Meira eventually manages to find one half of the locket, but since the other one is always on Angra’s person, the Winterians turn to their quest for allies. The only kingdom willing to help is Cordell, and their king Noam puts a heavy price tag on his help: he wants his son and heir to marry Meira and expects to have full access to Winter’s fabled mines to search for the source of all magic. With nowhere else to turn, the Winterians agree, but Noam quickly sells them out to Angra. It is discovered over the course of the book that Meira is actually the princess of Winter and can channel the magic. The book ends with Meira and the refugees gaining their kingdom back, but deeply indebted to Noam. At least his son, Theron, is sympathetic to Meira.
The second book is quite different from the first. The first focuses on a small group of rebels and has a lot of action sequences. The second is a lot more political. Now, Meira is Queen and must politically maneuver her kingdom out of Noam’s grasp and into better relations with the other countries. She and Theron set out on a cross-kingdom tour, Meira to locate some mysterious objects and Theron to plead for peace.
The setting of the second book is much more exciting because we see so much more of the world. We are introduced to almost all of the other kingdoms and their rulers. Meira’s decisions also become much more complicated as she is now acting on behalf of all of her people instead of a small group of rebels. She has trouble knowing who to trust, especially as she meets other rulers who all have their own agendas. The cast grows quite a bit in the second book and the characters mature. The plot gets a lot more complicated since there are several characters working at cross-purposes.
Overall, I really enjoyed the magic and the world building of this series. I have never had a fantasy series that focused this much on seasons and I liked what Raasch did with it. On the other hand, none of the characters really struck me. Meira is such a stock strong girl with no flaws distracted by love that I did not click with her. There are too many YA female protagonists that read exactly the same way. The plots were morally simple good versus evil and, while it occasionally comes close to some interesting points on politics and the moral responsibility of absolute rulers, it was not explored enough to make it a central feature. I love the world, but the rest just didn’t do anything great for me.