Red Winter Trilogy by Annette Marie
Published: October 2016 – April 2017 by Dark Owl Fantasy
Genre: Diverse, Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Synopsis for Book 1 from Goodreads:Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess-and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host.
Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command-whether she wants him or not. On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate-but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope… and hope is all she has left.
Review: This is a rather unusual review because I’ll be reviewing an entire series in one post – but I can promise no spoilers! Whilst I will rave about the plot and characters in general, this post will instead be a celebration of underrated books and diversity in YA. It all started with a holiday to Japan I had planned over Easter – I was going to be spending a fortnight traversing the country and needed a reading list. Usually when I’m heading off on holiday I like to match up my reading list with the country I’ll be visiting – I find it’s a great way to get a better appreciation of the culture. As a bibliophile, there’s also something really thrilling about being able to visit the setting and sometimes the specific locations mentioned in books and imagine the scenes from your book being played out – it’s a totally immersive experience!
I became aware of the Red Winter Trilogy whilst researching a TBR list for my holiday to Japan. Knowing that I was travelling to that part of the world I immediately defaulted to fictasian.com. This is a site run by the brilliant Eri (you can find her on Twitter here) with the intention of bringing together a masterlist of YA fiction that, in her own words, “promotes books with Asian characters as well as books written by Asian authors and of course, books that are both”. Since coming across the site, Eri’s lists have been invaluable in not only helping me to compile my TBR as I travel through Asia but also increase my awareness of some excellent diverse books. It’s great to have a resource where I can find YA books that offer an accurate representation of others like myself.
One of the other things that I’m grateful to Fictasion for is the fact that I have stumbled across some great books that are otherwise ridiculously underrated! Often some of these titles don’t come up in Goodreads searches when you’re after a particular genre or country. The Red Winter Trilogy is one such gem that I guarantee would never have made it on my TBR list which is a travesty because it is hella good – the 4.35-4.73 Goodreads ratings and the glowing 5-star reviews will convince you if I haven’t already! And if that’s not enough, I read the trilogy right after reading Flame in the Mist by the unsurpassable Renee Ahdieh and it more than lived up to competition!
As the blurb for the first book above will indicate, the Red Winter Trilogy is about a girl who is trying to figure out what she wants, what her destiny is, and whether those are the same thing. We follow her on an intense and breathtaking adventure throughout three books that honestly had me turning the pages like there was no tomorrow (and this coming after an enduring book slump that lasted months!) Emi is a great character, very relatable and really develops throughout the series. Shiro, the Yokai mentioned in the blurb, plus a whole host of colourful secondary characters really make this book what it is – you have been forewarned that attachment to the characters is inevitable. The plot moves along at a good pace and the wider trilogy arc always feels like it is making progress.
But what really sets this series apart is the breathtaking depth of mythology and world-building that Marie weaves throughout the book. Using yokai and the Shinto faith as a foundation she builds a great story with so much colourful detail, and as far as I can tell, with a lot of respect for the culture she is portraying. I couldn’t help but immerse myself in the series, and Emi’s world in the fortnight that the trilogy practically became my life. I honestly can say that this series added to my holiday in Japan – every time I came across a Torii gate or saw the washing ritual in a Shinto shrine I felt transported to the world of the Red Winter Trilogy. And vice versa actually, the background on the mythology and customs really enriched my understanding of Japan.
If you’re still not entirely convinced, there’s more! For the manga fans among us, the Red Winter Trilogy has some of the most beautiful illustrations peppered throughout the book. The artist is super talented and got the characters just right in terms of how I’d visualised them in my head. And finally, the trilogy is complete – in fact they were all released within six months (Ms Maas please take note…) and they are all on Kindle for silly prices. If you adored Flame in the Mist, are interested in Japanese history and mythology, or a huge manga fan (or all of the above) the Red Winter Trilogy is definitely for you!
Do you have any Japanese or Asian fantasy recommendations? Any lists or sites for Asian YA that are your bibles? Let me know in a comment below 🙂