Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Release date: 2017
Synopsis from GoodReads
Winterglass is a sci-fantasy about one woman’s love for her homeland (Sirapirat) and her determination to defeat the Winter Queen who has overtaken the land.
The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.
At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.
To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.
If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.
Why I was interested:
It’s an Asian retelling of The Snow Queen.
I’ve taken ages to write this review, because I just didn’t know how to express the things I wanted to say. Winterglass is a wonderful novella that manages to explore gender diversity and colonialism in only 130 pages, while still having well developed characters, a great plot, and an AMAZING magic system. It packed a real emotional punch, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.
What I liked:
Gender Diversity: I want to say that Winterglass is a celebration of gender diversity, but that’s not quite true. While numerous gender identities are present, including non-binary, neutral, and transgender individuals, the gender diversity is so seamless and matter of fact that it feels less like an overt celebration, and more like an accepted part of life that doesn’t need bells and whistles. I think that is why I enjoyed and appreciated this part of the Novella so much. Sexuality was similarly portrayed in a frank and no-nonsense manner.
Magic system: The magic system is amazingly disturbing, but intriguing. You can hurt peoples shadows and spirits, and kill them to make ghosts who literally power cities by providing heat and energy. The magic system was a big draw for me. It’s dark and mysterious and creepy.
Sympathetic Main Characters: The two main characters had quite reserved and distant personalities, but I still found them interesting, sympathetic & understandable. It’s the mark of good writing when you can still connect with a character who isn’t completely lovable.
What I disliked:
Occidentalism: Winterglass is set in an Asian coded country, and I had issues with the use of the term occidental. Not because I have a problem with people taking back power by utilising terms that were used to harm them, but because the automatic association is with it’s ‘Other’, Orientalism, and it seems to me that it just perpetuates the same kind of black and white, ‘us’ and ‘them’ sort of thinking that can be dangerous. On the whole the story seemed to be more focussed on portraying gender diversity than any other political agenda, so I’m not going to harp on about it. But it seems to me even using the term itself is somewhat of a political act, so I think it needs to be mentioned.
The Ending: The only other thing I was slightly disappointed with was the ending. Mostly because I didn’t want it to end. I want to know what happens next in Nuawa and Lussadh’s lives! I want to know more about the magic system!