In the tradition of epic fantasy authors like Tolkien and Martin, L. James Rice’s EVE OF SNOWS introduces an elaborate, sweeping world in this captivating debut. The narrative switches between several main characters to give the story its immense scope. In the seventeen days leading up to the Eve of Snows, an important autumnal festival, enemies and allies are revealed. Eliles, a priestess with secret, feral magic, struggles with a prophecy that could bring the gods back to their world after five hundred years. But she also wants freedom from Istinjoln, the mysterious fortified city ruled by a lord priest where conspiracy and murder hide in its winding tunnels. Demonic Shadows slither from the depths to possess the living, a sinister evil that’s nearly impossible to defeat. Political and religious machinations push the holy order and warrior clans to the brink of war. All of this seems to rest on the shoulders of young Eliles, who will likely change the course of their world forever.
There is an impressive level of worldbuilding in EVE OF SNOWS. It’s so dense that it often requires a second or third read to really absorb the details, and it can get a little confusing as more characters are brought into the fold, but it’s expertly planned. Despite the interwoven magic and fantasy elements, the world feels grounded in reality. And it feels ancient, as if this first book only scratches the surface in terms of belief systems, societal structures, history, and culture. (There is an extremely helpful guide in the book that gives insight into some of the worldbuilding.)
A creative magic system that’s tied to religion is a central thread in the book, complete with gods and hells and an afterlife. A ritual that involves reading bones for prophecy is an intriguing highlight. One of the more unique fictional magic systems in this genre, it distinguishes prayers as a kind of magic and something else called feral magic, wherein a person who harbors this is considered “defiled” by priests and monks. Though there are familiar epic fantasy elements like Wakened Dead, demons, warrior clans, and gigantic bear like creatures with human characteristics, everything has its own creative spin.
It does take a bit for the plot to get going, but once it does, the book never loses momentum. Cinematic, pulse-pounding action sequences, tense character manipulations, murders, betrayals, and shocking revelations are wrapped up in lyrical prose. Poetic turns of phrase beg for rereads. But Rice doesn’t overdo it on the details, trusting the reader enough to fill in the gaps. A rarity in this genre: all of the point of view characters are so compelling and likeable that it’s a relief they all get proper page time. When their stories finally converge—with skillful precision—it’s the ultimate payoff to see how their dynamics influence the plot. EVE OF SNOWS is a triumphant, stunning first book in the SUNDERING THE GODS series.
An engrossing and immersive read, EVE OF SNOWS offers an original fantasy world replete with impressive worldbuilding, cinematic visuals, and lively characters. An intense, fast-paced storyline that plays well with high-stakes action.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader