Published by HarperTeen on April 9, 2019
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Action & Adventure, Historical, Fantasy, Romance
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Katya’s power to freeze anything she touches has made her an outcast in her isolated village. And when she loses control of her ability, accidentally killing several villagers, she is banished to the palace of the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev.
At the castle, though, she is surprised to find that Sasha is just like her—with his own strange talent, the ability to summon fire. Instead of punishment, Sasha offers Katya friendship, and the chance to embrace her power rather than fear it.
But outside the walls of Kiev, Sasha’s enemies have organized their own army of people who can control the very earth. Bent on taking over the entire world, they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everything.
Katya and Sasha are desperate to stop the encroaching army, and together their powers are a fearsome weapon. But as their enemies draw nearer, leaving destruction in their wake, will fire and frost be enough to save the world? Or will they lose everything they hold dear?
I adored this author’s debut, BEYOND A DARKENED SHORE. It caught me by surprise with how much I enjoyed it, and it’s a story I would reread time and time again.
Because of that, I was quite excited about this companion sequel, THROUGH THE WHITE WOOD. However, I suppose my expectations were too high with this one. This book gives off a very different vibe from BEYOND A DARKENED SHORE and the characters felt a lot more young. While we dealt with warriors in the previous book, this one revolves around a healer and a princeling. Katya is known for her dangerous ice magic and gets sent to the prince for punishment, only to be recruited by him to protect the people and lands of Kievan Rus. While she distrusts him at first, thinking he only cares about her for her mysterious magical abilities, a slow attraction still develops between them.
There are countless monsters in this world. Some with fangs, some who skitter in the darkness just out of sight, some who wear human skin but whose hearts have turned dark as forest shadows.
We begin with death. Katya has rare ice powers that allows her to use a cold fire that she can’t control. This leads to the death of a certain loved one – and others – in her village. When she gets sent to the prince’s palace in Kievan Rus, she doesn’t know what to expect. It’s a slow process, but she ends up making friends with other people who have special abilities and finding, if not a home, then a place she can stay at for the moment. Katya has a headstrong personality, but she’s much more timid on the inside. She doesn’t trust her powers, nor does she trust people easily due to her villagers’ betrayal. She cares for the people around her though, and is passionate about protecting them. I liked her character, but found her ultimately very repetitive. She’s hung up over the same things for the majority of the book, says the same thing over and over again, and just got tiring at times. She’s a healer though, and a much more empathetic soul than most characters I’m used to reading – which may have contributed to some of this impatience.
Katya’s powers proved the most inconsistent in this book. We’re repeatedly told a LOT of her thoughts, while it takes almost the whole book for her to learn how to master them. For example, we’re told that using her powers a lot weakens her afterwards and leaves her feeling fatigued, but this only happens the first couple of times and is not mentioned again. While learning, she discovers that her powers are strongest when defending people, but again, the author only chooses to highlight select situations as a testament to this statement. The world and its Russian fairy tale creatures is quite interesting, but I think more development and edits with Katya would have given this book a more memorable outcome.
There’s a sweet romance that happens between Katya and Sasha, the prince she decides to ally herself with. The blurb kind of spoils a bit of this, but I love how their powers complement the other and how they’re as strong individually as they are together. Sasha was mysterious at first, but I grew to like him and his doubts. Like Katya, he’s had a tragic past and people think that he killed his parents, even though they were assassinated. He’s doing his best to defend a crumbling nation, and he needs all the help he can get. If that means persuading Katya to join his army (and perhaps fall in love with her in the process), then I guess that’s the way to go. I really liked their interactions, as well as the friendships they make with others. The supporting characters were definitely a highlight in this book.
‘The earth will only fall to fire and ice.’
The beginning of THROUGH THE WHITE WOOD was slower than I expected, but once it got rolling, it kept going. Readers are treated to a lot of creatures from Russian folklore such as rusalkas and Baba Yaga (always a classic), and the setting blended wonderfully with the plot. In general, much of the story was predictable (especially that subplot with Elation, Katya’s golden eagle), but it was still fun to read! What I liked about BEYOND A DARKENED SHORE was that even though it was predictable, reading those tropes put together with the way it was written was like wrapping myself in a warm, cozy blanket. Leake’s writing conveys a sense of “Wow, I know this trope and recognize it, but I love where she’s going with it and can’t wait to read more!” This feeling continues on with THROUGH THE WHITE WOOD, and while it wasn’t as impressive as her debut, it’s still an enjoyable fantasy I would recommend to readers.
Katya is a lovely character that took some time to grow on me, but I appreciated her empathy and hesitancy to trust people in the end. It made her opening up all the more memorable. There’s a sweet romance featured with some pretty cool powers and creatures involved – all wrapped in the mystic and mystery of Russian mythology. THROUGH THE WHITE WOOD may have been a tad more lacking than the previous book by this author, but it’s still a satisfying and sweet read that readers can wrap around themselves like a blanket. For fantasy fans, I would recommend this book! You don’t have to read BEYOND A DARKENED SHORE to enjoy this story, although certain characters have cameos in this one. If you like fantasy blended with simple magical elements and timeless tropes, then I would really recommend this one!
Trigger/Content Warnings: death of a loved one, mild violence
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Thank you Harper Collins and Edelweiss for the review copy!