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Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

This book can seriously do one. It can go to hell, and it can come back once it has learned its lesson. I got so annoyed at this failure of a novel, and not because it was a terrible book, but because it was choc-a-bloc with annoying, tedious, and completely unnecessary tropes.

Let’s be clear here: tropes are overused literary devices, and there are hundreds of ’em. It’s impossible to write a book without tropes in them, even if you try. Some tropes are acceptable, even loved. Some are pretty much universally acknowledged to be the kind of tropes you don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole (<– see that? that was a cliché, one of the more acceptable tropes…sometimes). If you read a lot of books of the same genre, you’re going to come across tropes that you see so much they piss you off. Now, I can forgive a few, even if I really hate them, I’ll forgive one or two. But I can’t forgive a book that has so many I lost count. Let’s list the non-spoilery ones, shall we?

– Action Girl MC
– Orphan
– Love triangle
– Informed attractiveness (x2)
– Both love interests happen to be princes
– “I love you but we cannot be together”
– Pretty without knowing it
– Makeover scene
– Obligatory hot topless male (x2)
– …who start fighting over her
– “You’ll know what to do when the time comes”
– Evil because I am

You know what happens when you use this many tropes, apart from seriously bugging readers like me? It means we guess the ending. No joke, this shit was so predictable I guessed the ending on chapter six, and spent the entire rest of the novel hoping to be wrong. And for a while I thought I might be, because the plot itself was pretty unpredictable.

It’s about a young girl called Meira, orphaned from birth and living with a small group of refugees who are the last free citizens of Winter. The King of Spring took the country of Winter sixteen years ago, killed the Queen, and enslaved the Winterians, leaving only this small group of survivors one of whom happens to be the heir to the Winterian throne, Meira’s number one love interest. Meira, the self-described “perpetually in-training orphan girl“, is raised to kick ass and take names, wishing above all else to save Winter.

Believe it or not, I do actually have some good things to say about this novel, so let’s get them out of the way.

1. Meira took a hell of a long time to grow on me, and though she never really popped she was okay in the end. She had her moments that made me go ha! that’s cute or oooh, ballsy and she actually had a personal journey to go through.
2. The world-building, while lacking, was different. Why were there countries named after the seasons? Don’t know! Why did their seasons not change or influence the neighbouring countries? Don’t know! Magic, I’m assuming. But I liked the different magic system, concerning conduits and the royal bloodline. There wasn’t a lot of magic in the book, but that’s probably best as it would undoubtedly be laced with tropes.
3. My first impressions of the love interests that they are going to be a) just there for the sake of romance and b) only characterised as far as to be Meira’s ideal mate. For one interest, I believe this is the case. The other has a bit more going for him, but it’s hard to tell because he’s barely in it. And that’s another good thing about the book: the romance takes a backseat. It’s hardly in it at all, but Raasch has built a foundation for her characters to develop later in the series. I’m down with that.
4. The plot was fast-paced, a little all over the place, but most of the time I had no idea what was going to happen next. Still tropey as hell, but I forgave the tropey plot points because I couldn’t predict them. That, and I was feeling generous.

So a good handful of positive points, but in the end the book’s downfall was entirely about the tropes. I know I’m going to be in for a tough ride when I immediately dislike a main character. As I said, she got better, but for a good half of the book she was the epitome of the Action Girl trope I hate. She was a female badass, the “strong, female, heroine” who proves, just by existing, that women are not helpless, they are stong. Sure, it’s great that more and more female MCs are being portrayed as something other than lovesick damsels, but I am still sick of this trope. It’s lazy, as often these characters don’t have any depth to them. The Action Girl trope is just a way of saying hey, my character is a strong woman, as illustrated by the way she just punched this man – it is unnecessary for me to do any further characterisation.

How about no? Being able to hold your own in a fight does not automatically make you a strong literary female character. You need to actually be interesting. You need an actual personality, a personal journey, a couple of flaws! You are a strong character because of your depth, not because of your ability to fight which, inevitably in books like this, is a device used to set the Action Girl apart from others, that weak women are the norm. I hate the trope mostly because it implies that a woman’s stregnth comes from fighting – just like a man. Woo! Equality of the sexes that we share through violence!
It’s a good thing that Meira actually got some characterisation in the end because I would have ripped her to shreds.

I’m usually very critical of how romantic interests are portrayed in YA, but with Snow Like Ashes there was a lot that I was fine with. Not saying it did anything for me, but it didn’t ignite my rage so that was fun. But what I couldn’t stand was the appearance of the Informed Attractiveness trope, or as I call it, “how to spot the love interest“.

“Mather bends into my line of sight, upside down over me, and I hope he attributes the sudden heat in my cheeks to exertion. No matter how many times he puts me on the ground, he never looks anything but handsome.”

Seriously, why do all love interests have to be hot? When Raasch introduces the two love interests in this book, the starts my telling us how hot they are, before even getting to their physical features. So now, no matter how hard I try, I can’t picture these guys in my head being anything other than gorgeous. What if I don’t want to? What if I don’t want my OTP to be an attractive pair? What if, by being able to make up my own damn mind on how hot a character looks, I can connect, identify with and immerse myself more easily into the fictional world? Well you’ve gone and blown that, haven’t you?
And oh my god, why do these men have to get topless? Yes it’s the Obligatory Hot Topless Male trope, and it’s just there to remind us that yes, these guys are gorgeous; not just in the face, but look they have pecks! And of course Meira oggles their might-as-well-be-oiled-up abs as they – you guessed it – spar for her affections. Look at me, I’m objectifying men just as men objectify woman; that’s the true meaning of equality!

These are the tropes that annoyed me the most, and these are the tropes that need to fuck off out of YA literature. Every other trope I read, though minor in comparison, just pissed me off further. And there were a lot of tropes. Even the fucking “big ending twist” was the easiest thing in the world to predict. And when that’s the case, authors, you have failed. This shit ensures that I do not buy your book, I do not read the rest of the series and I do not write you a positive review. Because if you’ve relied on tropes to write your book, it means I know I could have written this for you. And I also know that I would have done it better.


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