During the winter, I like to read: fantasy books set in snowy places, and quiet novels in every genre.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – a subversive adult fantasy retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set in a fantasy country inspired by Lithuania, told from the point of view of the daughter of a Jewish moneylender. It’s a story about a magical, never-ending winter, dangerous snow faeries, and a possessed Tsar. It’s so atmospheric it made me feel cold in July, and it’s the perfect winter book.
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke – a genderbent retelling of Beowulf following a girl gang of Boneless Mercies, who are mercy-killers for a living, as they decide to go on a quest (no, no one forces them. I love active protagonists) to become heroes and find glory. It’s a story about magic and witches, and it’s epic and nostalgic, beautiful and a bit slow-paced, the way I want wintry fantasy books to be.
Quiet YA Fantasy
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – this is my favorite quiet YA fantasy book. It’s slow-paced, beautifully written and atmospheric, it has an f/f romance between a princess and the court surgeon, and it reads like a fairytale. It was marketed as a “feminist Snow White”, even though it doesn’t feel like a direct retelling.
Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett – this is a very unique fantasy book set in a world inspired by the Himalayas (so much snow!). I loved how the main characters’ goal was not defeating an enemy or winning a competition, but climbing a magical mountain no one has ever climbed before (I love active, adventurous protagonists!). Also, the mythology of this world was really interesting and as unique as the premise.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour – this is a book about loneliness, unrequited love and grief, and it’s very slow-paced for something so short, but it’s also one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. It’s set during the winter and it’s very atmospheric, so it’s perfect for the season.
A Like in the Dark by Malinda Lo – an unputdownable story that is half dark slice-of-life contemporary (in first person) and half mystery (in third person). One of the most unique YA book I’ve ever read, it follows an unhealthy f/f/f love triangle from the point of view of Jess, a Chinese-American lesbian. It has a late-autumn, almost wintry atmosphere I loved.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente – at times weird, at times confusing, at times horrifying, but always beautiful, Deathless is one of my favorite books ever. It’s a retelling of the Russian fairytale The Death of Koschei the Deathless taking place during the first half of the 20th century, and it’s unforgettable. It’s one of my favorite winter reads.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – another historical fantasy book inspired by Russian folklore, The Bear and the Nightingale is set during the middle ages (14th century, I think) and it’s a very atmospheric story following a girl that doesn’t fit into gender roles and a mysterious frost demon.
The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé – a chilling horror read about anxiety, avoidance and isolation, in which ice is one of the most important symbols. I loved its oppressive atmosphere even when I read it this summer, but I think it would also be a perfect winter read if you want something that is a bit creepy. The mental illness rep in here is great and so is the f/f romance.
Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp – if The Dark Beneath the Ice is anxiety horror, Before I Let Go is inspiration porn horror. It was marketed as a mystery, but as a mystery it’s mediocre at best. As it’s an unsettling story of a small town in Alaska exploiting a bipolar girl as “inspiration”, I consider it horror. It’s not perfect and I didn’t love it, but it is a solid winter book.
Winterstrike by Yoon Ha Lee isn’t a book. I don’t know exactly how to explain what it is, it’s halfway between a game and a choose-your-own-aventure story, but it’s the most wintry (and even the most atmospheric, maybe) thing I’ve ever read. It’s set in a “winterlocked” magical city that has been destroyed by the cursed winter, and the ruins may be more beautiful than the city was. I really recommend this because it’s free to play and perfect for the season.
What are your favorite winter books?