Book Review : Followed by Frost

Book Review : Followed by FrostFollowed by Frost by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by 47North on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Romance
Pages: 256
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three-half-stars

Seventeen-year-old Smitha has the wealth, status, and beauty that make her the envy of her town—until she rejects a strange man’s marriage proposal and disastrous consequences follow. Smitha becomes cursed, and frost begins to encompass everything she touches. Banished to the hills, hunted by villagers, and chilled to the very core of her soul, she finds companionship with Death, who longs to coax her into his isolated world. But Smitha’s desire for life proves stronger than despair, and a newfound purpose gives her renewed hope. Will regrets over the past and an unexpected desire for a man she cannot touch be enough to warm Smitha’s heart, or will Death forever still it?

After reading Charlie N. Holmberg’s Spellmaker and Spellbreaker, I wanted to read another of the author’s works. After perusing more of her novels, I settled on Followed by Frost, which follows a teenaged girl named Smitha, who is cursed to be as “cold as her heart” due to her lack of care for anyone’s feelings but her own. Followed by Frost follows Smitha as she learns to deal with the consequences of both her actions and the curse, and slowly thaws her heart after years of wintery isolation, pain, and fear.

 

I curse you, Smitha Ronson, to be as cold as your heart.

“May winter follow you wherever you go,” he said, “and with the cold, death.”

 

Followed by Frost feels like an unconventional fairytale retelling.  But instead of the more classic tale of the man being cursed and the pure hearted maiden saving him with the power of her love to see past the curse, we see the opposite. Sixteen year old Smitha is best described as an entitled brat and I really struggled reading the first parts of the novel, before her curse. It was almost a relief when she finally got her comeuppance at the hands of a poorly rejected suitor. Unfortunately for Smitha, this man who fancied her before her rejection, was a wizard, and promptly uses the last of his magical energy to curse her.

 

Though I was glad that Smitha finally was forced to get her act together, I wasn’t happy with the reasons behind the curse. I just felt that her rejection, which was obviously very rude and uncaring, didn’t warrant such a severe curse from a man who barely even knew her when he confessed to loving her. Poor Smitha is constantly shivering in pain from the cold, unable to touch another human, and has to leave her family for fear of them and even the other villagers sickening and dying from her constant winter storm. To make matters worse, the girl can’t even eat without her food turning to ice in her mouth. And plaguing her every footstep is the shadow of Death, known as Sadriel, who longs to drag her to hell (or something vaguely similar), for the pleasure of her company. 

 

“No one will help you, Smitha,” he said, his voice deep and honey-like, quiet. The fire cracked behind him. “No one will take you in. But I will.” The shock of his words ceased my trembling. “What?” He smiled. “The realm beyond this one is grander than you could imagine.”

 

I was hoping Sadriel would be more of a figure like Luc from The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue or Frost from The Bear and the Nightingale, but he remains an underutilized and confusing figure in both the novel and Smitha’s life and a pale comparison to these other characters. Though Death constantly pressures Smitha to come with him to his realm beyond the current one, he also doesn’t show up when Smitha is at her weakest and most willing to accept his tempting offer. So for most of Followed by Frost, he seems to care for her wellbeing on some level, or at least have some morals. Though he’s not above being emotionally manipulative and abusive to poor Smitha. So I was pretty perplexed and horrified when Sadriel randomly became physically abusive to Smitha, as well. As if she didn’t have to suffer enough from the circumstances of her curse, she now has to fear the one being she has for company. Oof. 

 

Luckily for Smitha, after years of living on the outskirts of society in fear of hunters, with only Death and her memorized language books for comfort, she is found by Southlanders, who require her wintery services to beat the drought in their region. It is easy to be happy for Smitha with the change in her circumstances, as her curse has brought her so low that she fears being any kind of inconvenience to anyone with it. She is understandably thrilled with the prospect of finally being able to do some good with her curse. There, Smitha encounters Lo, the captain of the Prince’s Guard, who initially scares her, but whom she slowly comes to see with high regard, and eventually with helpless love and affection. 

 

Lo was a stern and quiet man, but I had already learned that he could say in a moment of silence what a normal man would take an hour to relate.

 

I absolutely loved the relationship that developed between Smitha and Lo. Smitha, though supposedly with a cold heart, loves without any selfishness and truly only wants Lo to be happy without her and her curse. She never once expects that he shares her feelings and I truly loved watching this lesson on the proper ways to love unfold in such a tender, memorable way. The novel is truly a reverse fairy tale retelling, complete with a transformational and powerful love, but with the heroine, and not the main male character, undergoing the change brought about by love.

 

While Followed by Frost is a wonderful fairy tale, it is not, however, much of a fantasy novel. It simply doesn’t have the world-building that other fantasy novels have. And that is okay, the novel certainly does a great job with its themes and characters, but it can be a little disappointing for fantasy fans. For instance, I was really intrigued by the wizards, like the one who cursed Smitha, but there is very little time devoted to their existence. Even though Smitha’s original plan to cure her curse is to seek out another wizard to break it, she never encounters any other than the original wizard who cursed her. The most we learn about them is the following:

 

“They harvest manna from the bowels of the earth, scraping it out of the bodies of beasts that died long before your kind ever took form. They covet it, kill for it, then eat it until their eyes glass over and their brains fill the realms adjacent to yours. Sometimes they die from it, but they take the risk in the name of ‘magic.’” He chuckled again. “Good luck getting one to use his manna on you. Then again, you already have, once.”

 

I really thought this was an interesting magical system and I would gladly read another of the Holmberg’s works in the world of Followed by Frost. I can only hope she will devote more time to the building of this world and magical system. Despite the lack of time dedicated to world-building, in Followed by Frost, I really enjoyed this magical story, its romance, and the beautiful transformation of its main character Smitha. It was a really heart-warming (pun intended), tale, and the perfect tale for winter, and for my last read of the year.*

 

 

(*This was my last read of 2020, but I just got around to posting the review.)

three-half-stars
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Book Review : Followed by Frost - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 29, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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