Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

17399160 Snow Like Ashes is one of the most action-packed novels I've ever read. The plot covers so much ground that I think other authors may have stretched it into a trilogy, but Raasch combines it into a part one that moves at a gripping pace while still finding time for great character development.

Sixteen-year-old Meira is one of eight refugees from the conquered Winter kingdom, on the run with the kingdom's young prince to try and restore the kingdom's magic and free its enslaved population. Meira sees herself as a warrior for the cause, but she has never been allowed to test herself in combat, until an accident means she is the only one available to go undercover in an enemy city and attempt to retake Winter's magic pendant that is hidden there.

Things, unsurprisingly, go wrong.

The story that follows is a mix of a whole bunch of fantasy elements: heists, political scheming, big battles, one-on-ones with the big bad, noble sacrifices and betrayals and shocking reveals. Snow Like Ashes has many twists and turns, never quite going where I expected, and it is gripping to the last page. Raasch masterfully weaves together character-driven plot with deep world building and a really inventive magic system, so that the story feels fresh but never confusing.

It's quite a dark book, although dark in the sense of "morally complex and doesn't hold back," rather than the "grimdark" that's become a fantasy cliche. And although the story dances close to some YA cliches, particularly the good old love triangle, it always feels emotionally genuine.

Snow Like Ashes is definitely my favorite YA fantasy of the last year, and one of my favorite YA fantasies period. If you're looking for a good read for a cold winter evening, this is definitely one to pick!