Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Flame and Snow
AUTHOR: Jessica Payseur
PUBLISHER: JMS Books
LENGTH: 402 pages
RELEASE DATE: May 20, 2017
Generations ago, shifters — many with magic powers — were accepted throughout Emylnor. But a war with the nearby dragon nation bred concern, and though Emylnor’s forces beat back the invasion, the shifters retreated into hiding.
Akton is a weasel shifter who seems to have no magical talents. When he is hunted, Talfryn joins the fight, finally able to flex his salamander flame powers. But while they make a good team, the thrill quickly wears off when they uncover recruitment orders. A shifter named Basil is building an army.
Someone has to warn Queen Ylenia before Basil can launch Emylnor into another war. When Akton and Talfryn volunteer to deliver the information to her, they have no intention of getting deeply involved with the fight — or each other. But to stop Basil, they need to learn to trust each other completely, and fast. Or all of Emylnor will burn …
So this book is pretty much the typical fantasy hero’s-journey fair. Shifters Akton and Talfryn are forced by circumstances to leave their small town lives and journey to the capital city to tell the queen that there is some shady business going on in the kingdom. Someone is press-ganging shifters into their army to fight against the queen, and anyone who says no is likely to find themselves and their family turned to ash. Despite not wanting to be involved in any of this, neither Akton or Talfryn has much of a choice because if they don’t there is a good chance that they will be the first to go up in flames.
While I didn’t go into this book expecting anything wholly revolutionary, I was really intrigued by certain aspects of this story. I found the idea of this weasel shifter and this salamander shifter pairing up rather cute and interesting. I’m also just a huge fan of fantasy in general and love me some sword and sorcery. And I will admit that the first scene did a good job of hooking me into this story right away. I wanted to know more about Akton, more about why he was being chased, and what exactly were the rules of magic/shifters here.
But after that scene, that’s were the cracks in this book really started to show. I don’t think this is a bad story, by any means, but I think it would have benefited from a few more revisions. Not because of any glaring grammar issues–not that I noticed anyways–but because there were quite a few points where I really felt the pacing of this absolutely fell apart. There were also a few times where the characters would do something that directly contradicted what was stated a few sentences ago, and it really threw me out of the story.
But the pacing was really where I had the most trouble. For a story about this desperate attempt to stop this evil dude’s army, this book had absolutely zero sense of urgency to it. There were times where this huge fight would take place and the MCs would be all “we need to get to the queen!”…and then hang around town for a few days. I also had a hard time understanding distance in this world. I got the feeling that the capitol and where the books starts off in the beginning of the story were rather far apart…and yet it felt like it took them a couple weeks to walk there. With multiple breaks in the middle as well. It felt off, somehow. Maybe it really was that close, but the sense of scale presented at the beginning of the story, and what actually took place, never seemed to fit together in my head.
Also, as much as I love fantasy stories–and as much as I enjoyed the shifter aspects of this story–I never really got how magic worked in this world. I just found it weird that for all the exposition in this book (and there was probably too much, to be honest) we never really got the information we needed to fully grasp the most important parts. When the evil dude, Basil, and Talfryn fight…I kinda found myself not caring. Because I never really understood who was more powerful, or why one was beating the other, or even why some shifters had powers and the others didn’t. When writing magical fights it is really important that you give your readers some sense of what each player is capable of…and while there were some attempts at this, it was enough for me to get invested in these battles. Basil beat Talfryn in this battle…because of reasons. But he lost to him in this other battle…because of different reasons. I wasn’t exactly sure why I should fear Basil, and so I wasn’t sure why I should really care if he won or lost. Other than he is evil, I guess.
And let’s talk about that for a bit. This book basically makes zero attempts to give Basil any type of explanation, backstory, or motivation. He is evil and he likes lighting things on fire. That is it. We never find out why he decided to raise up an army. We never really get to know him at all. He is just there because the plot needed some catalyst. It was such a huge waste. And I think the book tried to redeem itself a little bit in the end by having one of the characters bring up the fact that they never found out why all this stuff happened…but I’m firmly of the opinion that just because a book is self-aware doesn’t make it excusable. This villain was completely flat, and so instead of fearing him I mostly found him to be annoying. Much like the kid on the train who won’t stop screaming at the top of their lungs over not getting their way.
There certainly were things about this book I liked. The variety of shifters were pretty cool, and had we actually got more explanation about them (instead of rather unneeded backstory about the country that never really played into the story at all), it would have been great. The MCs were ok…but I will admit that Akton came off a bit hot/cold for a lot of the story. Much like he didn’t know how to feel more than one emotion (and feel it to its fullest) at a time. It was a bit jarring. Overall this story just felt underdone. A lot there that could be really good, given a bit more time and tightening, but as is was underwhelming.