**This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**
Key Descriptors: elemental magic, coming of age, strong characters, world-ending stakes
Premise: A Woman of uncertain origin has raised a demon using the taboo art of shadow magic… and only the princess of Axaria can stop her. Asterin, skilled both in blades and elemental magic, rises to the challenge along with a group of her friends. Along the way, she discovers the secrets plaguing her queendom go much deeper than she ever could have imagined.
Review: Before we jump into the full review of this book, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the author herself.
Born in 2000, Canadian-Chinese author and pianist Coco Ma began playing the piano at the age of five and a half. Since then, she has performed on some of the world’s greatest concert stages and graduated with a pre-college diploma in piano performance from The Juilliard School in New York City. At fifteen years old, she finished writing her first novel, Shadow Frost. Currently, she studies at Yale College. When she isn’t practicing piano, writing, or studying, you might find her bingeing Netflix or eating cake. Lots of cake.NetGalley Author Bio
Coco Ma has accomplished more between the ages of 15 and 19 than quite a few people do! Completed Shadow Frost at 15? Degree from Julliard? Going to Yale? That is fantastic, and I’m incredibly impressed! I read this novel prior to reading about the author, and I was ready to praise it as a strong debut YA novel long before finding out that it was a strong debut novel written by a 15 year old. You go,
Anyway, on to the novel itself!
The characters definitely carried this novel for me. They interacted in charming and often funny ways. It was genuinely fun to read when they teased or joked around with one another – particularly Asterin’s guardian-from-birth, Orion. Harry, the woodsman we meet partway through the story, also turned out to be surprisingly funny and interesting!
Each of the characters had an astonishing amount of growth over the course of the book. In some cases, things felt a bit rushed; there were more than a few pacing issues in the novel, but nothing I’d consider to be unforgivable. Every character grew up or learned something about themselves and was forced to confront one personal demon or another. In some cases, these were pleasantly surprising as a reader, adding an unexpected new plot thread.
Unfortunately, some of the revelations were a bit much to swallow. To at least one of the plot twists, my reaction was less surprise and more, “Oh come ON, that’s literally not how things work at all. This would LITERALLY never happen.” Fortunately, each of those did serve a future purpose in the novel, allowing it to build up to its final conclusion.
The ending was yet another twist – and a well done one at that. Characters were forced to make difficult decisions and choose where their hearts really lay, and the ramifications of these actions were not simply hand-waved away. One of my biggest pet peeves is to see characters’ relationships being “reset” after one person makes a terrible decision or hurts the other person – I am pleased to say that Shadow Frost does not succumb to this temptation and instead follows through on each choice Asterin, Luna, Quinlan, and the rest make.
Romance was a strong secondary element to the adventure. Almost all the characters were either dealing with a past love, falling in love, or currently involved with someone. There was sometimes a bit too much “tell” rather than “show” when it came to the build-up, particularly where Asterin’s relationship is concerned. On the whole, however, I’d say it was very well done with a teen audience in mind. Anything overly explicit occurred entirely off-screen, with only the implication being communicated to the reader (usually with a bit of humor thrown in).
All in all, Shadow Frost is a strong debut novel with a great cast of characters. Despite some slight pacing and “show don’t tell” issues, this book was a solid 3.5 stars.
If you liked Shadow Frost, you might also enjoy:
- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik
- The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
- Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce