"The wolf must be kindhearted, and the deer must be brave."
In a world where warring gods manipulate humankind to carry out their wills, magic and mysticism cloak the land and sea, and clans battle for primacy, a spark of passion, and tears of treachery carried upon the wings of time descend through the ages. A girl in the clutches of a monster hidden beneath the skin of a man; a boy with eyes far older than his years; a mark binding them together forever. The boy, now a man, is left broken upon faraway shores after a deadly attack at sea, healed and protected by a woman with familiar violet hair and grass-green eyes. He is just a beast in the eyes of her people, and an omen of ill fortune that will bring the wrath of both the Dragonmen and the true gods upon them. Each has always been the other’s fate, but the monster has other plans. The gods have other plans. They must endure the onslaught, as enemies close in on all sides, to save her life, and his soul.
Beasts of the Frozen Sun is the first installment in the Frozen Sun Saga, and is an incredible Celtic and Norse-inspired tale of forbidden, undying love, and transformation. The saga of Lira and Reyker goes far beyond the realm of men and deep into the long-lost and often misunderstood myths of those who came before. Is this history repeating itself, or is divine intervention weaving the threads of their hearts and souls together? It’s a story that focuses on the corruption of power and battle of control, holding fast in the face of sorrow and suffering, and finding solace beyond the wall of the norm in the most unexpected places. It’s a beautifully stunning debut – one I wished would never end.
Criswell has brought to life a cast of magnificent characters, and although I usually discuss each individually, then explore their relationships, I feel as though I need to speak of Lira and Reyker as one. Theirs is one of the most genuine, organic romances I’ve ever read. While Reyker battles the black river, Lira struggles to find her purpose and destination. She calms his turbulent soul, and he bolsters her wavering resolve. The two balance each other perfectly, each specifically crafted to fill the void in the other. It’s really a pleasure to watch their relationship slowly unravel as they explore each other in mind, body, and spirit. In addition to our lovers, we’re presented with several antagonists throughout, including Torin, Madoc, and of course, Draki, warlord of the Dragonmen. Each so different, but when examined more closely, so alike in many ways. Touched by the gods, they’ve all had a taste of power, a power which pushes them to seek domination. Torin wants more, Madoc wants what’s due, and Draki wants Lira. All are willing to go any lengths to gain what they seek. And Reyker is willing to go any lengths to protect his love.
This book gets quite dark and graphically violent, pulling you into a world being realistically torn at the seams by war and deception. It has a very grimdark-esque flavor – hope seems to be an increasingly foreign notion as the characters are met with trials and tribulations at every turn. Death and the afterlife are recurring concepts, playing crucial roles in the links between the past and present, and Criswell does not shy away from presenting the grisly details associated with either. While I’ve seen this labeled YA, I feel that classification ends with the main characters falling within the 17-18-year-old age bracket. Personally, I’m a huge fan of dark fantasy, so this was a pleasant surprise. If I had to give one bit of criticism, it would be to give these poor souls a break…the instances of “out of the frying pan into the fire” began to feel a little too inevitable.
Criswell’s prose is striking, flowing exquisitely across the pages like a saga of old. From start to finish, I was dazzled by the world she constructed around me, full of enchanting forests, hungry and violent seas, and charming villages veiling terrible secrets. The pacing is perfect, slowing down when necessary, then speeding up to create such a sense of palpable urgency – the pages were practically flying by. The love emotional, the battles visceral, the mysteries awing. After turning the final page, I’m still finding it difficult to believe this is a debut, her craft is just superb.
The gorgeous cover of this book initially caught my eye, and I’m thrilled it aptly reflects the content within. A world shrouded in darkness, enemies approaching from the horizon, and the light of love the only hope remaining, Beasts of the Frozen Sun leaves us at a cliffhanger, and I’ve been left hungry for more. For lovers of myth and mystery, dark fantasy, and romance, this book is for you. I’m anxious and excited to see where Lira and Reyker are taken next. I highly recommend.
Note: A huge thank you to Blackstone Publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review.