Web of Frost is the first book in the Saints of Russalka series, which is set in a fantasy country inspired by Russian folklore and the Russian revolution. It incorporates both political and religious themes, with a magic system based on saints and blessings. It promises court intrigue, a compelling romantic dynamic and a perfect wintry atmosphere.
Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver.
For most of the book, I didn’t love the main character. She starts the book being a naive fool, then she takes a 180 turn to ruthless fool and control freak, and doesn’t understand anything of what is happening around her until 70% into the book. Which wouldn’t have been a problem (I do like unlikable, messy heroines) if I hadn’t guessed everything that was going to happen during the first chapters. I said this other times, I will say this again: predictable political intrigue makes your book feel cheap.
I really liked Katza’s character arc – she has a lot of development and she learns from her mistakes – but you still have to endure almost 300 pages of her being oblivious while you know exactly where the story is going. Was it worth it? I don’t think so.
The romantic plotline was a disappointment. I’m always here for pairings like this one (love interests who are kind of monstrous? Girls who might be worse? Sign me up), so this should have been perfect for me, but it wasn’t. The problem I had with Ravin is that he’s really… monotonous. When I fist met him, I thought he was a creep. When I was in the middle of the book, I thought he was a creep, and not an interesting one, as he kept repeating the same things over and over. At the end of the book, I thought he was a creep. There’s no depth to him, he has no character development, and he’s just not that compelling as a character. I didn’t understand the pull between him and Katza.
To me, Web of Frost felt like one of the many books set in Russia that try to explore themes similar to those in Shadow and Bone (light/dark dynamics, unhealthy romance, saints and religion) and fail. Leigh Bardugo did it better.
The beginning reminded me of Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie because of its setting and naive, inconsistent main character, but at least Web of Frost tries to develop the political intrigue and themes instead of being driven only by the romance.
I also didn’t love the writing. It didn’t flow well, and there was no atmosphere, which was a disappointment: this setting has so much potential. It didn’t abstain from bad similes, however – I know I read an ARC, not the final edition, but was that sentence about the corset being so tight Katza’s breasts could have popped free and smacked her chin necessary? That’s the kind of thing that makes me cringe, taking me out of the story.
This book wasn’t completely bad. I ended up liking the main character, and I appreciated that she was angry and messy and inexperienced, but “angry and naive” is just not a combination that works for me. At least she grows out of it. Another thing I liked was the magic system – it was really interesting, and I loved its symbolism. I also really liked how the book showed that you can’t solve everything with the awesome magic power you inherited from your super special bloodline. That’s a trope too many fantasy books fall into.
My rating: ★★