It's not often you read a book and think to yourself, 'Well, I've never seen THAT done before', but Kelly St Clare's debut novel has made me do just that. In a really, really good way.
I've read a bit of high fantasy in my time, but I can honestly say I've never come across a setting involving two worlds, one stiflingly hot and the other icy cold, rotating around each other to create a habitable area only where the two worlds are closest. Such a simple idea, but so clever and original and Kelly St Clare takes the idea and runs with it, weaving a story full of intrigue and politics but also plenty of characterisation and humour.
Olina is the Tatuma - the first in line to the throne - of Osolis, the hot world. She lives in a migratory court (because you've got to stay fairly close to the cold world at all times. See?) with her mother (evil), uncle (evil) and brothers (nice-ish) and despite the poor treatment she receives manages to retain some spirit and humour. When her secret fiance, a prince from the ice world of Glacium, is killed in front of her she becomes the prime suspect and is whisked away as a hostage to Glacium.
Olina was a really interesting protagonist. She came across as brave, but also aware of her own limitations, which is something you don't see too often. As part of the cruel treatment she receives from her rotten mother, she is forced to wear a veil to hide her from the rest of the world and, like any prisoner, over time she has come to rely on it to the point where she is now too afraid to go without it.
Over the course of the book, I found myself constantly going, 'But why a veil?' Because surely if her mother wanted to mistreat her, she could have given her a beating, disowned her, killed her even. So why the veil? Was she super-ugly? Super beautiful? And then, right at the end, the real reason for the veil gets revealed and it's like, 'Nice one. Totally didn't see that coming.'
Kelly St Clare does a good job of marking out the differences between the societies on the two planets and the geopolitical difficulties they face, but hasn't equally she didn't do the scenario to death and she's left herself plenty of room for new developments and revelations in her subsequent books. I'll certainly be looking out for them.
A well deserved....