Frost Arch, by Kate Bloomfield, is the story of Avalon “Ava” Redding, a Fire Mage who lives in a world where Humans are slaves, Mages are in charge, and how you live depends on how much power you have. Avalon, whose power is midlevel, moves to the city of Frost Arch, a place where curiosity and telling the truth can make your life very difficult. She works as a maid for the Forsythe household. While there, she becomes friends with a Healer, Jack Greenwood, and, with his help, raises the winged fox (named Hawthorne) that she rescues earlier in the story. As the novel goes on, Avalon’s life repeatedly gets threatened with each secret she uncovers, from her Master’s hidden collection, to the reason why Frost Arch is stuck in a constant winter. It all eventually leads to a deadly battle between Avalon and the most powerful Mage in all of Frost Arch.
Oh, Frost Arch…I wanted to like you so much. Your premise is so promising: magic, mystery, clever animals, and an underdog main character…what could be better? Unfortunately, the delivery didn’t live up to the promise. Even when I overlook the many spelling and grammar mistakes (which were truly excruciating), it’s still impossible for me to like this book. One of the biggest marks against Frost Arch is its main character.
Avalon Redding is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. Almost all of her misfortunes are the result of her own selfishness, carelessness, and downright stupidity, and what’s worse is that she and her friends barely even acknowledge it. In fact, I don’t get why her friends even like her, let alone risk their lives for her. She constantly disregards other people’s wishes, she gets angry at every little thing (especially when someone dares to tell her “no”), and she has an awful habit of pointing out the obvious and thinking she’s “clever” or something. Now, I’m not saying that the main character of a story has to be good, or even likeable; on the contrary, unlikable characters can be just as interesting as the more pleasant ones, sometimes even more so. However, even the most unlikable protagonist should have something relatable or understandable about them; it shouldn’t be the case that a character who the author clearly wants you to like is so annoying that you have to stop reading every 10 pages.
Something else that really bothered me about Frost Arch is the fact that Bloomfield (or at least, Avalon) seems to think that “ugly” = bad, or otherwise undeserving of affection. There are several points in the book where Avalon, sometimes accompanying Jack, sometimes not, has to interact with the woman who runs the town’s post office. Avalon is so repulsed by the appearance of this woman, who is described as a “large, older woman with long, grey fly away hair,” that, when Jack flirts with and jokes around with her, calling her a “lovely lady,” Avalon’s first thoughts are “this Gretchen was far from lovely. She reminded me of a pug-dog. She even seemed to have a moustache.” She starts to feel guilty, but the feeling doesn’t last. The next time we see Gretchen, there are mentions of wobbling double chins, plump figures, and of course (and this is more on Bloomfield than Avalon), a “mouth full of pastry.” Earlier, Avalon even shudders at the thought of being friendly with her. Strangely, the “ugly = unloveable” mentality doesn’t really go the other way. Two of the main villains are described as being very good-looking, even when they hurt Avalon. But then, maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t like this aspect of Frost Arch; there’s so much description of physical beauty, and the awe that Avalon feels when she sees a pretty face, that it’s almost like Bloomfield’s main priority was always physical description first, story second. In fact, every time the character Raeven appears, there’s always a pages-long description of just how amazingly beautiful she is.
My last problem with Frost Arch is the quality of the writing, specifically word-choice. This isn’t a huge deal, but it does get really annoying when the same word or phrase is repeated over and over again for no reason. In this case, the word “trundled” appears 8 times, all of them when Avalon is out in the snow. Bloomfield could have easily used the words “walked,” “rolled,” “trudged,” “waddled,” “plodded”…you get the idea. There’s no need to use the same word (especially this particular word) so many times. Once or twice is enough. Also, not every redhead needs to be described as having “fiery hair” or a “fiery temper.” People who write about redheaded characters: please find some different words and phrases with which to describe them!
Thankfully, there are one or two bright spots in this book. The best parts have to do with Avalon’s companion/pet, Hawthorne. Hawthorne is intelligent, strong, and protective. He can camouflage his coat, and he can fly. The scene where Hawthorne first learns how to fly is probably one of a few great passages. When Bloomfield describes Avalon’s feelings as she soars through the air on Hawthorne’s back, it’s almost as though I were there in her place. I love reading about the sensation of flying, and Bloomfield does a very nice job with those scenes. The second good part is the final battle. We finally get to see Mages use their powers in cool ways, and it. Is. Awesome. Fire and ice are fun elements to read about, and when they’re paired against each other, the results are usually exciting. That battle is the only section of Frost Arch where I didn’t check to see how many more pages I had until the end.
1 out of 5 stars
Sorry, Frost Arch, but a couple of good parts can’t make up for the rest of a book being terrible.
I recommend this book for…
…anyone who wants to know how not to write a novel.
Note: I received the Frost Arch e-book for free from Shut Up & Read’s Read It & Reap giveaway.