A Breath of Frost
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Release: January 7th 2014
Genre: Witches, Supernatural, Historical, YA
#1 in the Lovegrove Legacy duology
Sequel: Whisper the Dead (#2)
In 1814, three cousins—Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope—discover their family lineage of witchcraft when a binding spell is broken, allowing their individual magical powers to manifest. Now, beyond the manicured gardens and ballrooms of Regency London, an alluring underworld available only to those with power is revealed to the cousins. By claiming their power, the three cousins have accidentally opened the gates to the underworld.
Now ghouls, hellhounds—and most terrifying of all, the spirits of dark witches known as the Greymalkin Sisters—are hunting and killing young debutante witches for their powers. And, somehow, Emma is connected to the murders…because she keeps finding the bodies.
Can the cousins seal the gates before another witch is killed…or even worse, before their new gifts are stripped away?
This book felt a little like a cross between Ruby Red and Hex Hall, two novels that I immensely enjoyed, however, A Breath of Frost was a lot more sloppy.
I will say that, nonetheless, I still enjoyed it. It wasn't spectacular or anything extraordinary, but still fairly entertaining. I liked it well enough.
Despite that, it has lots of flaws that I will gladly point out. First and foremost, there are the characters. It's a book written in 3rd person narrative, which enables the novel to have a huge cast of characters and that is something Harvey made full use of. There were even more characters in this one than in The Raven Boys, which is saying something. At first, I couldn't even hope to keep track of everyone, especially since a quarter of the characters are mentioned once and never again. Or, appear once, and are mentioned twice more. Something like that, and it was very confusing to try to keep up with everyone.
And with too many characters also comes the problem of characterization. It's always hard to give characters depth when there's so many of them, and so, instead of giving only some a little bit of a spine, Harvey chose to make all of her characters likable in a way, but completely two dimensional. There is only one side to Emma, one to Penelope, one to Gretchen and so on; and while I was still able to appreciate them all, I never really came around to caring about any of them. Honestly, they could have all died in the end and I wouldn't really have minded. It's frustrating, because the potential is there, like I said, they're all very nice and interesting characters, but alas. I'm still hoping they'll get some more characterization in the next book. It's supposed to be a trilogy after all, even though this one did end very nicely wrapped up and it already feels like an unnecessary trilogy.
Anyways, let's talk a bit more about how confusing this book was. Some scenes were written entirely incomprehensible, and maybe it's me just not being a native speaker, but considering that I've fought my way through about two hundred English books so far, I think communication and the language barrier weren't the problem here. I just didn't understand what Harvey was trying to describe to me, because her descriptions were vague and confusing, a lot of the time I had no clue what the characters were doing, or trying to do. It was all very frustrating.
And the confusion does not end there, oh no.
Someone explain to me why all of these people seem to have two last names. Cormac is mostly Cormac Fairfax to everyone, but why do some characters call him Lord Blackburn? And why is Emma Day's father Lord Hightower? Thanks to a helpful commenter, this confusion has been cleared. Thanks!
And on a completely different but also relevant note, why is Emma's second name Jane, when there's another character around whose first name is Jane? Maybe it's because that Jane was just another one page character, once mentioned and never again. But it still further added to the madness that was this book.
And there's still more stuff that left me frowning. I just can't remember it anymore. I forgot to make notes for this one.
However, even though Harvey was sometimes very bad at describing what was going on, I still liked her overall writing. There was some very pretty and lyrical prose here and there, and she could write a few beautiful scenes when she wanted to.
Oh, but there is one other factor that really didn't flatter this book, and that was the romance. It's mainly what reminded me of Ruby Red, aside from the whole Order thingy, and while I did love Gwendolyn and Gideon's easy banter, I didn't get Cormac and Emma's attraction. Somehow, Cormac and Emma had a fling the Christmas before but then he ditched her and basically made out with every girl around, humiliating Emma in the process and months later, she's still not over this jerk? And then, of course, we find out via Cormac's POV that he's always loved Emma and only dumped her for her own protection. Of course. It's true and, most importantly, forbidden love all around and they make out a few times, just randomly, after .... after what? I don't know, man, but on page 120 they're kissing. It's not exactly insta-love, I mean they already knew each other and had even kissed prior to the events of the book, but I still felt a little cheated. There is no real connection between them, no spark. Not to mention that we're in the early 1800s and they just make out, with tongue and all, in broad daylight on the streets. I don't think people would have been so forgiving at this PDA and just looked the other way? Not when a boy and girl of high social standing would be doing this... I will say, however, that while I didn't like their relationship, I also didn't dislike it. So basically, you win this round, Harvey.
The plot wasn't entirely original, but also very interesting and kept me want to read on. There's some tiny element of mystery sprinkled in there what with the murders going on and the crew trying to find out who's behind them, and even though I guessed the murderer about 50 pages before they were revealed, I still liked the final climax. It was a bit underwhelming, yeah, but there was also one really emotional scene that made me actually sad for that character. Anyways, other than me correctly guessing the culprit, there were other plot twists that I did not see coming and were very well done.
But! One thing that I loved about A Breath of Frost is that it sends out a similar message as Frozen. I don't want to spoil, so I'll try to paraphrase it as best I can without giving away too much. Essentially, there's some kind of ... curse (well not really but let's leave it at that) going on in the end and only "true love" can break it, but it's not that kind of true love. Now, if you've seen Frozen, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about and I just LOVED this recognition that there's also other types of love. I mean, yeah, there's a little of that too, but the important thing here was the other kind.
And then there's Gretchen, who's a feminist basically, and being very open about it. She wants equality, stating that if she has to learn embroidery, why doesn't her twin brother have to, as well? Why can't she be a spy, and why do the girls have to impress the boys? She raises some serious questions that are relevant even now in modern society, and I generally loved her headstrong character, because she managed to be adorably improper without being obnoxious. She was probably my favorite character.
She also served as some seriously needed comedic relief, and delivered some of my favorite quotes. Bottom line: Gretchen is hilarious and badass and I love her.
Bottom line of the book? Nice. I really did enjoy it and I think it was worth my time after all. The plot was mostly interesting with somewhat nice characters, and if you'd like a historical witch book, then you might want to try this. At least, if you're in the mood for a very colorful and big cast of characters, otherwise I would recommend Born Wicked more.