Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker Children’s on January 7, 2014
In 1814, three cousins—Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope—discover their family lineage of witchcraft when a binding spell is broken, allowing their individual magical powers to manifest. Now, beyond the manicured gardens and ballrooms of Regency London, an alluring underworld available only to those with power is revealed to the cousins. By claiming their power, the three cousins have accidentally opened the gates to the underworld.
Now ghouls, hellhounds—and 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 seal the gates before another witch is killed…or even worse, before their new gifts are stripped away?
I’ve read a couple books by Alyxandra Harvey before – she is a Canadian author, after all – and they were good, but I didn’t love them like I did A Breath of Frost. Probably because those books weren’t about witches. Damn, I love witches! And Harvey does a good job of adding her own spin onto the tried and true witchy formula.
In Harvey’s alternate London, the distinction between witches and warlocks isn’t based on gender, but character: witches fight for the forces of good and warlocks for evil. Spells can be found inside pouches of herbs and glass bottles, as well as spoken. We’re also given glimpses of a magical goblin market hidden within London where spell casters for hire trade in dreams, witches eyeballs, and teeth. Hopefully the goblin market will become a bigger part of the series because it was seriously awesome. Lots of people toeing the line between good and evil.
There are some wonderful moments where Harvey explores this predisposition to evil acts, questioning whether blood is enough to predict someone’s behaviour. Through Ewan, a character with quite the genetic predisposition, Harvey suggests that love is a more powerful force than blood. Loving someone(s) can free you from darkness because it gives you the strength and support to choose for yourself. Love is the most powerful magic of all, people! I’m such a sucker for that stuff.
And there’s a lot of love in A Breath of Frost. Protagonist Emma Day and her cousins Gretchen and Penelope have a wonderful relationship, one built on love, loyalty, and of course some good old fashioned mischief. In many ways they seemed more like sisters than cousins. As they begin to come into their own as witches, these three learn that they are most powerful when working together; they often join forces to protect each other from harm. I especially enjoyed how Emma and Gretchen gave a verbal smackdown to a boy who’d called Penelope fat. Oh ho, buddy. EVERYONE knows that you don’t call a girl fat unless you can handle some serious whoopass. Or in this case, witchy juju.
Unfortunately the cousins know very little about said juju, since they’ve all been kept in the dark about their abilities (of course). So when the girls’ powers begin to manifest and they start seeing things that by all rights should not exist, they’re understandably a little wigged. Emma is especially affected, since her mother is infamous for her supposed “delusions” and “insanity.” Want to know what the real deal is? Read the book, people!
The Greymalkin Sisters were alright villains, although I did think that they were a little too evil to be believed. Slaughtering innocents and generally causing mayhem when you actually have a plan is one thing. Doing it because you’re just that evil? That’s a pretty lame justification if you ask me. Only one of the Sisters actually has a real reason for her vindictiveness, and it’s because her beau died on the moors. Like 200 years ago. Talk about holding onto the past.
There were quite a few twists and turns in A Breath of Frost, some of which I saw coming from miles away and others that pleasantly surprised me. The seeds for Gretchen and Penelope’s books have definitely been planted, and I for one cannot wait. I’m especially excited by Penelope’s story, the third planned book in the series, as it offers the tantalizing prospect of a Victorian fantasy novel that delves deeply into issues of classism.
A Breath of Frost marks the beginning of an exciting new series, one perfectly suited to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy or historical fantasy.