Frost is the first novel in yet another new dystopian series. I’d say something sarcastic about the need for new dystopian series right now, given the severe shortage and all, but the truth is I love the current trend. I like reading about the imaginary and plausible-to-varying-degrees worlds that authors can come up with.
It’s the same reason I like reading books about dragons. And aliens.
Still waiting for someone to send me a book about dragons and aliens, BTW. Just a reminder.
Anyway, I like books that spark my imagination. Real life has enough drama to make me not want to spend my precious reading hours delving into fake “real-life” drama. (Yes, I know, there’s always exceptions. But I’m all about broad generalizations right now)
So I picked up Frost based on 4 factors:
1) It was another YA dystopian, and I like those.
2) It had a good rating on Amazon.
3) The cover was pretty.
4) It was short (194 pages), and I wanted something short to balance out the epic fantasy novels I’ve been trudging through lately (I say “trudging” like this is somehow painful for me. It’s not. Just loooooong).
It turns out that reason 3 was a sham, because the cover has absolutely nothing to do with what the book is about.
[One of these days I’m going to learn a valuable about judging books by their covers. But that day is not today.]
What the Book Is About
Frost is the story of Lia, a teenage orphan taking care of her crippled twin brother and younger sister. They live on a farm near a small village in The Frost, a hostile and chilly area located somewhere near mountains and forests. Maybe Canada. I don’t know.
Lia has her share of troubles. First, she has been responsible for providing for her family since her parents were brutally killed by Watchers, mysterious and vicious beasts living in the forests of The Frost.
Second, between the Watchers and the equally mysterious and slightly less vicious Farthers — the people who live outside The Frost — Lia lives in constant fear for her and her family’s safety.
And third, she and her sister just rescued an injured Farther from the Watchers, and are hiding him in their barn.
Lia can’t imagine what possessed her to help a Farther, but she finds herself reluctantly nursing him back to health. And the more she learns about him, the more questions she has about her village, her family, and the people she thought she knew.
What I Thought
Let’s start with the good. Frost has a really interesting story. I like Ms. Ellison’s writing style, Lia’s character, and the world she lived in. I saw some of the twists coming, but some were genuinely surprising. I still have a lot of questions about exactly why the village is located in such a hostile environment as The Frost, but the groundwork was laid to get answers in future books.
And yes, there’s a bit of a love story in Frost. It was sweet and mildly necessary, and pretty much what you’d expect in this genre. I liked both Lia and her guy (I’m not going to say which guy, as the beginning sets up 3 potential candidates. Don’t worry though, it’s definitely not the dreaded love triangle). As with pretty much all YA love stories, I thought their feelings got too deep, too fast, without much foundation. But that’s probably just because I’m too far removed from being a teenager, so I have no real complaints.
The pacing in the first half of the book was great. I felt like the characters were set up well (some were a little under-developed, but then again, I’d have a hard time naming a book that doesn’t rhyme with Barry Trotter where all of the characters are well-developed). The world-building was good. A lot of potentially fascinating elements were introduced to the story: the Watchers, the Farthers, why the village was located in The Frost to begin with, the death of Lia’s parents, and the mysterious boy she blames for their death.
The main problem I had was in the second half. I felt like we kind of skipped most of the plot development and skipped straight to the grand finale. It felt rushed. I know I said I picked up the book because it was short, but a short book should still tell a complete story; it should just be a short story. Frost was an average-to-long story crammed into a short book.
It was like we jumped straight from the set-up to the conclusion, with no development. The characters of Ann, Cole and Adam all had significant contributions to the plot without much leading up to it, making their actions seem kind of out-of-the-blue.
In the first half of the book, Ms. Ellison does a great job with the “show, don’t tell” mantra that always gets thrown around writing circles. But in the second half, everything is “tell.” The big showdown at the end has absolutely nothing leading up to it, and the entire thing is explained by The Bad Guy doing some extensive monologuing, with no prompting whatsoever.
Also the ending has three — count ’em, three — dei ex machina (Yes, that is the plural for deus ex machina. Yes, I looked it up), back-to-back. I will name list them vaguely to avoid spoilers:
1) Extremely specific overheard conversation that prompts the events leading to the ending.
2) Reveal of the Bad Guy.
3) What happens to the Bad Guy.
It just seemed like there should be a better way to get to the ending without forcing it. I’m not a fan of unnecessary exposition and buildup, but this story needed more of both to really feel satisfying.
There had to be a more organic way for the same events to have taken place, but with Lia & Co. actually figuring things out on their own through subtle clues rather than having their next actions spelled out clearly by external forces. There had to be a better way to reveal who the bad guy was and what exactly he did, without just dropping him in for a point of a final confrontation. And there had to be something better to do with the character than what happened after the extensive monologuing.
It’s just too fast. Too much happens in too little time. Especially when the beginning seemed like it was really going to take the time to build up some steam. Instead it barely started simmering, then it exploded.
Frost is a good story. I’ll be interested in the next book in the series to see where things go. Ms. Ellison has a natural, engaging writing style that I like. I just hope that with the next book, she slows down her pacing a bit. I’d like to spend more time with these characters. Let them develop, grow, and learn. I think it would be neat.
Content guide: Contains some mild violence.