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Winterglass Paperback – December 5, 2017
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"A fairy tale, beautiful like an ice crystal, and razor sharp."
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor of She Walks in Shadows
"Winterglass is rich with diamondine prose, a scintillant retelling of the Ice Queen that challenges Occidental aesthetics, colonial mentality, and personal identity.
Cassandra Khaw, author of Hammers on Bone, BFA & Locus Award nominee An exquisite gem of a novella.
"Politics, relationships, and combat presented as a matryoshka, the beauty of which is there's no easy way of telling which shells are within which. Sriduangkaew's sensuous metaphors and elegant imagery are never less than a pleasure to read. Thoroughly recommended." Jonathan L. Howard, author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
About the Author
Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes love letters to strange cities, beautiful bugs, and the future. Her work has appeared on Tor.com , in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, and year's best collections. She has been shortlisted for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her debut novella Scale-Bright has been nominated for the British SF Association Award.
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The world in Winterglass - while a cold horror in many ways - also echoes with clear hope: people are all people. No matter your gender, your sexuality, your attraction or your lack thereof, you are equally valid and important, and they will not determine if you rise to glory or crumble to dust.
The author, based on my (not exhaustive) reading of her works so far, is also a lot like Zelazny or Fritz Leiber in being at home in a variety of genres, moving between science fiction, secondary world fantasy, urban fantasy, etc. etc. in a way that not many authors do.
It would be kind of remiss to avoid what will probably be the biggest word-of-mouth draw: the novel's glorious rainbow cast and world. Not just in the sense that yes, this character is a cis lesbian and that character is a non-binary trans pan woman and here's an off-hand reference to a married gay couple and over here are non-binary and genderfluid characters. Nor just in the sense that these characters are treated as natural and ordinary, but rather in the sense that this is a world that treats gayness, transness, enbyness as equivalent to hetereosexuality and cisness, through the use of terminology worked in at overt and covert levels. And then this is all placed within a setting that is frightfully dystopian and simultaneously naturalistic about that dystopianness, without the slightest hint of dissonance.
Winterglass is based on the fairy tale of The Snow Queen, described by the author as "loosely", which is true on the level of plot or whatever, but at the same time the novel's emotional core is more or less derived directly from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Without spoiling a novel that isn't officially released yet and won't be for three months, there are also a lot of direct parallels, including ones generally neglected in adaptations of the story.
Ursula Vernon's The Raven and the Reindeer, invites immediate comparisons as both are "lesbian adaptations of The Snow Queen" (and in that subgenre there is at least one story on fanfiction.net with them, which is probably enough for a thesis if not a dissertation). While Vernon's fine novel is most obviously different in that it hews closer to the plot (and thus focuses on the romantic relationship that develops between the Robber Girl and Gerda), what is far more interesting is how we can see genre shaping the two stories.
Winterglass is described by the author as high fantasy, and there is a lot to talk about with regards to this, but the first part is to look at the setting. The setting is, like most high fantasy, recognizably Earth, and the basic geographical relationships are intact- the novel takes place in Fantasy Southeast Asia, a major character is from the Fantasy Middle East, Fantasy Indonesians/Oceanians and what are probably Fantasy Europeans are referenced. But simultaneously the fact that this is a full-on Secondary World, I think, frees Winterglass from the tyranny of historicity and allows the setting to unfold without having to concern itself with how it came about.
The Raven and the Reindeer is set on fairy-tale Earth and in the same sort of generic recent history that Andersen's original fairy tale is set in, perhaps pushed further back in time. And as such, while the characters aren't traveling from Uppsala to Malmo or whatever, there are references to Lutheranism and Lappland. And so the novel, I think, thus centers on Gerda's coming out and realization of her sexuality because it is in a genre that pushes for historicity (though Raven and the Reindeer is far more accurate in terms of the presence of lesbian and bi women in history than this implies!) and thus is shaped by genre.
Winterglass is high fantasy not just in being set on "Earth as seen through the Gaussian blur filter in Photoshop" but also in the form of the genre. We have a quest object, we have a darklord (or dark lady, but the Queen in Winterglass is far more like Sauron [if we want to get really hyperspecific, the Queen of Elfland in "Tam Lin"] than the "seductive temptress" archetype that term sadly implies) and we have some downright Hero's Journey stuff going on. We have prophecies and the power of blood and gruesome literalization of the nature of empire.
But the novel plays with these concepts. Like how Eliot's The Waste Land has been described as "a Grail quest without a Grail", here we have a quest object where the quest has been carefully removed to the background and the subtext. The darklord figure presents us not with motiveless malignity but with a compelling blend of alien, fairy-like thinking and understandable yet evil motivations. The prophecies and the blood heritage elements are flensed apart and the rather despicable undertones exposed. And the Hero's Journey elements, in this environment, cannot help but be transformed, sublimated into something organic and moving.
Winterglass has a perfectly satisfying ending, but much like Glen Cook's The Black Company (which bears a lot of similarities) it has plenty of room for continuation and left me thinking about where things would go from here. Which is probably a higher recommendation that anything I've talked about, but not as high as the accident of structure which left the novel's two sex scenes in chapters 6 and 9 (nice).
This is one of the most perfect novella exercises in literary speculative fiction I have read. The beauty and precision of the prose, reminiscent of Angela Carter, makes the most of each sentence. The story and characters possess a depth and pathos that is usually hard to achieve in a short novel, particularly since the author is also able to build a convincing and logically consistent fictional world at the same time. This book proves why Sriduangkaew is one of the best contemporary writers of literary SFF, how she keeps getting better with everything she writes, and anyone or anything standing in the way of her next piece of long-form should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
The two anti heroes of this story are a duelist named Nuawa who was saved as a child from becoming ghost fuel and secretly harbors a grudge against the queen. She enters a tournament as a chance to get closer to the queen and enact her revenge.
Our other protagonist is Lussadh who acts as the queen's right hand.
The paths of these two intertwine and we get lots of romance and intrigue.
The first thing that will probably jump out at the reader is the very queer inclusive nature of the book and it's setting. Being transgender or lesbian is just accepted as a part of everyday life in this world. Characters with non-standard pronouns are also common.
The story is well paced and exciting. Sriduangkaew's prose as always is meticulously crafted and flows.
The world is full of lots of details hinting at something much larger while not bogging you down with too much minutiae and wanky stuff.
The characters are all ruthless people that you can't help but root for and want to know more about.
The books ending is left very open ended so presumably Sriduangkaew intends to continue the story and explore this world in future volumes which I look forward to.