Review: A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey

Saturday, December 21, 2013
Title: A Breath of Frost
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Genre: young adult, supernatural fiction, historical fiction
Series: The Lovegrove Legacy #1
Pages: 496
Published: expected January 7 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5


In 1814, three cousins-Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope-discover their unknown family lineage of witchcraft. Beyond the familiar manicured gardens and ballrooms of Regency London, a dangerous, alluring new underworld visible only to those with power is now open to the cousins.
But unbeknownst to them, by claiming their power, the three cousins have inadvertently opened the gates to the Underworld. 


Now the dead, ghouls, hellhounds-and the most terrifying of all: the spirits of dark witches known as the Greymalkin Sisters-are hunting and killing young debutante witches for their powers. 


And, somehow, Emma is connected to the murders...because she keeps finding the bodies.
Can the cousins unravel the clues and mystery behind their heritage and power before their gifts are stripped away ...or even worse, another witch is killed?

Are you a fan of historical fiction? The English Regency-era, in particular? How do you feel about witches and magic? If you like both of those genres, especially together, and like the sound of the them combined in a YA setting, then A Breath of Frost is the exact novel you didn't know you were looking for. If the marriage of British arisotocracy (they even have a Witch's Debretts, how awesome is that?) with magic doesn't sound interesting and fun to you, well you're in the wrong place. This is an entertaining and involving first-in-series effort from a veteran author and it does not disappoint.

Set in 1814, when the three Lovegood cousins (main narrator Emma, Penelope, and Gretchen) are just entering the Season, Harvey begins her tale with a ball and a murder. Though the author does start her novel off without holding back, it takes her a while to get the murder part of this"murder mystery" actually going. It's about 300 pages before the villain strikes again. Though A Breath of Frost clocks in at 500 pages and rarely drags in pace or momentum, that is a really long stretch of narrative without any increasing violence or tension. 

Don't get me wrong, in that time spent away from murders, Emma uncovers her powers, her history, and her own plotline. Thankfully, it's an interesting one -- think of her as a mix of Tamora Pierce's Daine (especially when it comes to her dad!) and Harry Potter. Once her powers manifest Emma is sent to Rowanstone, where all proper young ladies learn about and how to control their inherited magic. The inevitable comparisons to other magical boarding schools aside, Rowanstone is a finishing school and though it's subject matter is closer at heart to Madame Geraldine's floating Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality from Etiquette and Espionage than Ch√Ęteau Mont-Choisi

There's a bit of fuss and bother about the Lovegood legacy Emma's mother left behind, but that would get too spoilery too go into full detail here. It's pretty central to the plot and Harvey provides the necessary flashbacks and exposition easily and subtly. Suffice to say, Emma and her cousins, plus her love interest Cormac have to do survive some pretty daring escapades to save the day. A Breath of Frost keeps a nice balance between the manners and society aspects expected and the magic she has entwined.

The characters are strong and distinctive, but there are so many, both past and present, that remain little more than names on a page. I liked Emma, Penelope, and Gretchen but aside from the main character, her cousins need more personal definition. Besides Emma, Cormac remains the most well-drawn character, and as her primary love interest, that makes sense. The others have definite potential (I think I could really love Gretchen if her role/time is expanded in future books) and I hope the author includes them more in the next novels to come in the series. The villains of the Greymalkin Sisters made for a spooky, spectral teams of antagonists and I am really curious to see where the author tries next.

I would recommend this for fans of Shades of Milk and Honey, and/or Regency-era heroines who flout social convention. Or readers who like will-they-won't-they romances that aren't the sum total of the plot but still manage to pack the feels. Or spunky heroines who do what they want. Or people who want British people secretly performing magic. This book is all that and more. A Breath of Frost really exceeded my expectations and I will be eagerly waiting to see when a sequel will come out. Though the main plot was tidily handled, there is more than enough room for exploration with these characters and this world. Maybe a Gretchen book? Please? Or Penelope and Cedric?

I went into this novel thinking that its 500 page length would be a daunting task to overcome. Instead, the book largely breezes by on the pure entertainment offered, the inescapable character charisma, and the fun you have while reading. As a series opener, you can't really ask for much more from book one than that it makes readers excited to see what is coming next. A Breath of Frost has done that in spades.

4 comments:

  1. I liked some of Harvey's books but her recent ones have left me unimpressed. That's why I think, despite liking witches and historical fiction, I have not felt the urge to pick this up. However, I may give this a try if it presents itself to me.

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  2. Oh, really, Jessie? I thought Harvey's books would be terrible for some reason, but this actually sounds like a total Christina book!

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  4. I'm a fan of Alyxandra Harvey too. I think she has a great sense of humor and I own all her Drake books. I think i'll like these three cousins a lot.
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