The problems of foreign aid

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

A prepublication Big5+ review

r/suggestmeabook: I want political intrigue where a not terribly politic warrior princess is fighting to save her country.

Movie rating: PG-13

Publication date: 1/12/2021

Publisher: HarperVoyager

ARC courtesy of NetGalley

From the publisher: A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Greta Kelly spins an engaging yarn about Askia, a woman with a claim to a crown who has had to flee her country because her cousin has been installed as a puppet king by a foreign power—and that foreign power has been absorbing its neighbors for years. The favored weapon to bring each country to its knees? Sealing up a city and burning all the inhabitants to death. Desperate, Askia seeks help from her godfather, the emperor of a major empire to the south, hoping he will save the present for the sake of the past.

Our homeland, pillaged and burning and crawling with invaders, lay less than a mile north of here. But with the jagged peaks of the Peshkalor Mountains shading my back, I might as well have been a hundred miles away. The strangled screams of everyone I’d left behind echoed through the passes, reverberating through my skull.

Greta Kelly, The Frozen Crown

How Kelly handles powerful women is interesting. The protagonist, Askia, is something we see a lot in fantasy: the warrior maiden who has learned how to fight like the boys and basically shoots the finger at the dominant patriarchal society. She does this well, for even though she sounds suspiciously contemporary, it’s not problematic for me, because, despite the setting, everyone sounds pretty contemporary. The other powerful woman, Queen Ozura, must exercise her power indirectly from the harem, which is a much more traditional way women had to exercise power—from the shadows. But Kelly doesn’t treat her as somehow lesser because the society she’s in has required her to take a less straightforward approach.

I let their indifference slide off me. I wasn’t in Eshakaroth for them. I was there for the Vishiri envoy. My father once told me the Vishiri emperor had a weakness for the exotic and the strange. So I would do my barbarian best to catch his interest from a thousand miles away.

Greta Kelly, The Frozen Crown

The main characters are clearly drawn and likable, despite the fact that they tend toward stock characters. Stock characters are fine when well done, as Kelly has—none of them feel forced or clunky. I’d have liked to know more about some of the secondary characters, but since this is a first person narrative, Askia’s lack of interest in the backgrounds of the people around her works. She’s so focused on solving her immediate problem, and doesn’t always think through how to best utilize the contacts she has, that it makes sense to me that she doesn’t sit down and ask, say, Nariko, the woman who is her primary contact with the local culture, about her life and motivations.

It was being done so casually, so openly, that I could ahve kicked myself for not realizing it sooner. Queen Ozura hadn’t sent Nariko to serve me. She’d been sent to spy. I knew I should be angry, but it was all so ridiculous, I couldn’t muster the emotion.

Greta Kelly, The Frozen Crown

The book is paced well and has clean, clear writing. This is a book that plays into the expectations of the reader in a good way—not exactly predictable, but definitely solidly within the genre. There are some nice twists, and Kelly does a nice job of making you feel as though Askia is being pressured into a corner.

The biggest problem I’d predict someone would have is that it’s definitely a first installment, so if you don’t like waiting to find out what happens next, you may want to wait until the entire series has been published. Overall, this fantasy is well-executed and fun, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

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