“Weak or strong – she didn’t know what they meant anymore. Maybe they didn’t mean the same thing for everyone.”
First, you have to know that this book literally is being marketed as, and I quote, “a fantasy feminist fairy tale”, and if you think that wasn’t enough to sell me on it, you are DEAD WRONG.
In the wintery wonderland Whitespring, Princess Lynet is nearing her sixteenth birthday, and her father expects her to come into her own as Queen. Unfortunately, Lynet has never wanted to be a Queen – she just wants to climb trees and towers and learn more about the mysterious new surgeon, a girl named Nadia who makes her cheek flush every time she smiles.
Meanwhile, Lynet’s stepmother, Mina, has only ever wanted to be Queen; with a heart made of glass and an upbringing that told her she was unworthy of love, she has decided that power is the next best thing. What will she do when the King decides to crown Lynet Queen earlier than expected, and takes that power away from Mina, leaving her with nothing?
I always try to go into debut novels with optimism, and this book was no different. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback for me of this entire book was the writing itself. It felt a bit young, as though it would be more suited for MG writing than YA. Many incidents that should have been earth-shaking, if not entirely traumatic, were simply breezed past by the characters within a few short sentences, leaving the entire plot to feel very rushed. I didn’t think passage of time went very realistically in the story.
That said, the writing is very whimsical and paints a beautiful setting. I loved the descriptions of Whitesping as well as the Southern lands, and I thought the characters were sculpted magnificently. I will absolutely be first in line for Melissa’s next book, because I think she shows uncanny amounts of potential!
Also, the chapters switch perspectives between Lynet and Mina, and for the bulk of the book, those perspective changes also include changes in time, with most of Mina’s chapters being set several years in the past. Those transitions were flawless, and I never struggled to keep the perspectives separate, as they felt like distinctly different narratives.
Lynet is really the primary “main character” in this story, and she is a fun narrator. She has grown up constantly being compared to her late mother, the former Queen, but all she wants is to be recognized as her own person. She would rather spend her days climbing trees than learning how to become the next Queen, and she wants nothing to do with politics until she learns that she can help people instead of only ruling them. Her blossoming relationship with Nadia is sweet, but very slow-moving and unacknowledged for the bulk of the story.
Despite being cast as the “evil stepmother” of this fairytale, Mina was probably my favorite character, if only because my heart ached so much for her. She was raised with no mother and a loveless father who constantly told her she was not only unworthy of receiving love, but also incapable of giving it. She carries a heavy burden of self-loathing and shame, but is a profoundly kindhearted character at times. She makes some awful choices, but I felt like she redeemed herself thoroughly by the end of it all.
I really expected Nadia to be a huge aspect of the story, being Lynet’s love interest, but I was stunned to see how little “screen time” she actually got. We learned very little about her and her character underwent minimal development, so I couldn’t even formulate a solid opinion on her.
And then, my single biggest problem with this book: the relationship. WHERE IS THE GAY?? I was told this was supposed to be an adorable lesbian love story, but there is almost no romance whatsoever and I was just sorely disappointed in that aspect.
✘ FINAL VERDICT
I love fairytale retellings for their whimsy and magic, and this book didn’t let me down in those avenues. I was especially fond of the way the magic worked, such as how Mina’s glass heart gave her a way to manipulate glass into becoming other things and people.
Ultimately, I’m a sucker for stories where the “villain” is really just a misunderstood, wounded soul, and Girls supplied that in no small measure. Almost every character in the story has undergone genuine traumas that explain the ways they behave, for better or worse.
All in all, while it wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, it mostly fit what I wanted. It was a fun read that I didn’t really want to put down, and I’m eager to see what else Melissa Bashardoust comes up with!
Thank you so much to Flatiron Books for the ARC! All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.