By Cynthia Bujnicki
There is a darkness rising in Axaria. Asterin Faelenhart, Princess of Axaria and heir to the throne, may be the only one powerful enough to stop the demon that has been terrorizing and lurking in the woods of her home. Others have died trying to kill it, and so may she. Armed with just her newfound power and strange new allies, Asterin embarks on a journey to kill the beast, but can she do it before the secrets it hides destroy her and her friends?
Strong female characters are always great, and here is one such individual. Asterin is not only a strong character, but she is, ultimately, such a flawed character. Driven and powerful, she is always eager to try to better herself to make sure that she is the ruler her people need her to be. Asterin is ready to jump into battle with her warriors rather than sit idly by. Moreover, while these are all great merits, it’s her insecurities that make her come to life. Asterin seeks the approval of her mother and attempts to control the power inside her that she doubts. She is human and relatable, and that’s what keeps her from falling into the trap of being a Mary Sue character, which she was close to becoming. She has all this power, all this skill, but she doesn’t know how to use it, her decisions are conflicted, her choices are complicated, and the outcomes do not always favor her. That’s the compelling part of her narrative, how twisted she is inside to do what’s right for herself and her people, while also challenging herself and growing through the story.
However, the story goes beyond Asterin, expanding to her band of friends. Each character has a unique voice, making them stand out, but, much like with Asterin, they each have insecurities that make them relatable, and ultimately, they balance each other out wonderfully. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but they love each other leading them to fight for one another in fantastic ways, even while they battle their misgivings and insecurities.
There is something to be said about the pacing of the novel. It does a decent job of world-building, and the opening sequence is dark and tantalizing. However, from then on, the pace is slower, it takes a while to pick up the pace and then in the middle it slows down again. It is clear that the intent is to showcase the characters, to focus on their dynamics and growth, and at least Ma does an excellent job of summarizing the passage of time in a remarkable way, but while that is happening it almost feels as if the main story is being put on hold to do this. It makes the pacing feel choppy even though it picks back up and speeds towards an action-packed ending.
Shadow Frost is, ultimately, a riveting debut that has such a fascinating story of magic and gripping character development. It breaks apart by giving all the characters their chance to shine and grow, while also introducing tension throughout the layers of the story, making it an excellent read. (★★★★☆ | B)