Today is the publication day of ‘Black Snow Falling’, a historical-fantasy novel by L. J MacWhirter, and I was lucky enough to receive an advance reader copy by Scotland Street Press, in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve always been honest on here about what kind of genres I generally enjoy more than others and to continue in that vein, I would never have picked historical fiction or fantasy as my favourites. But… I’ve already eaten my words once this year with ‘Things a Bright Girl Can Do’ by Sally Nicholls (a book that’s now one of my all time favourites) and I’m definitely willing to do that again with ‘Black Snow Falling.’
The story begins by alternating between two points of view, one of Jude, the son of a candle-maker (who also plays the role of ‘master curiosity’ at the banquets of King Henry the 8th) and then a girl called Ruth, the daughter of an Earl in Elizabethan times, who’s POV becomes the sole perspective as the story continues (with the exception of one chapter from the POV of a stable hand called Silas). The book will feel familiar to most people with it’s fairytale-esque aspects; in particular I noticed nods to Cinderella with the ‘evil stepmother and sister’ characters, as well as just the overall whimsical tone throughout.
The shift in tone from the sort of more historical story and then the one of fantasy and magic, felt a little jarring at times as the juxtaposition between what sometimes felt like two completely different stories felt quite harsh, but I actually think that that was quite a powerful storytelling technique. It made the parts with the ‘dream thieves’ feel like dreams themselves, lulling you into a false sense of security for parts that were actually pretty dark and more ‘nightmarish.’
I think the recommended age range for the book was the early teenage years which I would agree with. I managed to guess what was a (sort of) major plot point really early on but I definitely don’t think I would have been able to do that when I was 13/14. I’m not sure I would have necessarily ‘enjoyed’ it more when I was younger as it actually really interesting to read it at this age, as I was able to appreciate the twists on classic myths and fairy-tales, as well as appreciating the psychology of it as a psychology student (it’s definitely the only ‘children/teens’ book I’ve read that attempted to describe cognitive dissonance!)
It also featured a lot of really lovely quotes like: “Yet dreams are not always sent for great purpose. Sometimes they are sent to suffuse the soul with hope. For without hope life on Earth is a hideous interlude before heaven.” I think that was my favourite one, I really loved the way the story portrayed hope and how much power it can have against the dark – even in the worst of times.
Overall, yes, there were a lot of cliches and tropes that might seem overdone at first but once you begin paying attention to the subtleties and the way the story plays into those and subverts them in a really clever way, then I think you’d agree that it combines lots of tales that we already know and love in a really intelligent way, as well as providing a modern take on them, that can be appreciated by most of it’s readers.