Books, Reviews

Book Review: Through the White Wood by Jessica Leake

Title: Through the White Wood

Author: Jessica Leake

Series/Standalone?: Standalone / Companion Novel (characters from Book 1, Beyond a Darkened Shore, make an cameo)

Number of Pages: 409

Goodreads Link.

Synopsis:

Katya’s power to freeze anything she touches has made her an outcast in her isolated village. And when she loses control of her ability, accidentally killing several villagers, she is banished to the palace of the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev.

At the castle, though, she is surprised to find that Sasha is just like her—with his own strange talent, the ability to summon fire. Instead of punishment, Sasha offers Katya friendship, and the chance to embrace her power rather than fear it.

But outside the walls of Kiev, Sasha’s enemies have organized their own army of people who can control the very earth. Bent on taking over the entire world, they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everything.

Katya and Sasha are desperate to stop the encroaching army, and together their powers are a fearsome weapon. But as their enemies draw nearer, leaving destruction in their wake, will fire and frost be enough to save the world? Or will they lose everything they hold dear?

Synopsis Taken From Goodreads.

My Review

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My friends.

Gather around my fire. I have a tale to share.

One day, I bought this book after enjoying the first book by this author. I was promised two precious lil’ beans with opposite powers (fire and ice baby) that try to stop an all powerful enemy together – while also feeling a bit of the l o v e.

So I was excited anyway.

Plus.

Standalone Fantasy.

Big win for me before I’ve even read a single page.

But then…

I read a page or two.

And then a hundred.

And then the other hundreds.

And now I am in love.

Back in January, I finished devouring the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden, and it was over in a flash. Sadness overwhelmed me. And so, I set off on a quest.

A quest to obtain any book with Russian Folklore woven through out. Or any book sited to have taken a drop of inspiration from Russian Folklore.

And guess what I found in this book???

THAT’S RIGHT!!!! RUSSIAN FOLKLORE!!!!

The synopsis says “the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev” but that didn’t click in my mind. I was like, “It’s a fantasy book! It’s not uncommon to use real place names for fantasy worlds! It doesn’t mean there’s going to be Russian Folklore!”

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How wrong I was.

When I started reading, and the main character said, “I caught sight of Babushka.” My mind went oh hO HO!!!! *attention at 10,000%*

I was in it. I was buzzing with excitement. I woke up in the morning. Saw this book by my bed. E. X. C. I. T. E. I read a few chapters after waking up. The whole day was then filled with joy and of anticipation for when I could hold this book in my arms.

But then, I finished the book….

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This is the only problem with Standalones… The end page is THE end page. There’s no more to be had.

I can only dream that the author writes another book in this world and maybe my favourite characters will turn up with all their beauty and be all “Don’t worry new MC’s, we’ll lend you a hand!”

Angels, the lot of them.

Our Main Characters

Katya:

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  • Icy Gorl. In powers only. Doesn’t want to hurt people for no reason. Although she contemplates whether or not her powers make her evil/ a monster regardless of if she uses them for good or evil. Being called a monster by her fellow villagers did not give our sweet angel any confidence and I want to fight them all.
  • Doesn’t want to train her powers in case she hurts someone. = Soft angel confirmed.
  • Sees Hot Prince DudeTM and gets a big frighten. Because everyone says he’s amassing an army of people with unique abilities and Katya is like “nuh uh. No thanks sir. I cannot. Strong ice, freeze all. Better if I had a nap instead ok.” – but later realizes that Hot Prince DudeTM is friend and not foe. Decides she wants all the knowledge about people with powers, both because “interesting” and for her own sake.
  • After getting information about her powers, she doesn’t suddenly master them and become one with them. She’s still afraid, and tries to learn for herself how to overcome that fear.
  • Has animal companion. Giant Eagle Friend has been around since she was a baby. Brings her food. Will fight anyone who looks like they’re being mean to Katya. 12/10 good bord.

Grand Prince Sasha:

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  • Fiery Boi. But not so fiery that he’s a big meanie. Nice fiery. Keeps you warm fiery. But will be Nasty, “I Will Incinerate You” Fiery if you are the big meanie.
  • Great Fashion. Gives Katya a chest of fancy clothes, which she doesn’t wear because they were too fancy and no good for travelling in the snowy forests – and he was like “ah heck. too much fashion??”
  • Super Strong Shoulders Need A Rest. Prince Sasha inherited the throne earlier than he should have, and so took everything that went wrong to heart. Carried all this guilt on his shoulders because he thought that all of it was his to carry. Boi needs a holiday away from his throne, and a million massage sessions.
  • Does a Protect. Will protect all! Unless they’re dangerous to him or the people he cares for, in which case he does the complete opposite of protecting. Katya disappears for two seconds and Sasha gets all “Oh mY gOD!! WHO LET HER GO ON HER OWN??!?!?!” He 120% knows Katya can protect herself, but also knows she doesn’t like using her powers because she’s scared of them and so doesn’t want to put her in a situation where she feels alone and out of control.

Secondary Characters

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I’m just gonna say it now, out of all the characters in this book, yes the animal companions are all my favourite! Elation being a helpful bean. Bringing rabbits and stuff to Katya in the forest. But if we’re talking people (and maybe a lil’ bit of animals)

Kharan and her pony horse were my fave “side” characters. Kharan sleeps in a tent with her horsey and feeds him lots of tasty snacks so he’s a little on the chonky side and I love him so much.

I love Kharan’s character too!! Kharan’s power is that she can blend into the shadows, so she works for Prince Sasha as a spy and I imagine is amazing at her job, even though we didn’t really get to see her doing much spying. I loved watching the friendship between Kharan and Katya grow and strengthen over the course of the story. Kharan was the classic wink wink, nudge nudge best friend to Katya anytime Sasha was around, and I love to see it.

Ivan was the stoic character that you can’t help but love even if he barely says anything.

Boris was our strong boi. Bless. Again, didn’t have much dialog but I love him. He’s my best friend thanks.

Queen Ciara and King Leif appearing and being an adorable married couple and helping Katya and Sasha fight against the bad guys. Angels I tell you.

“Who are we fighting?” King Leif asked as he viciously cut down one of the Drevlians. “Wasn’t I just saying it had been too long since we’d battled, my love?”

“The gods must have heard your pleas,” Queen Ciara said with a grin.

– Through the White Wood by Jessica Leake, page 332.

The World and Plot

RUSSIAN FOLKLORE!

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Have I said that yet?? I love Russian Folklore so much. In Through the White Wood we have the Rusalka – a malicious female entity, often associated with water (in lakes and rivers), the Bannik – a bath house spirit, and of course Baba Yaga – a witch who will either help you or eat you, depends on how she’s feeling tbh.

I just love how the folklore is woven and present around every corner we turn in this book.

Have I ever told you how much I love books that are set in Winter and have sentences like “the sleigh glided through the snow” in it?? Because I love it!

For some reason I love being all cosy in my blankets and oversized jumpers and reading about people being freezing cold… and they’re also busy doing world saving stuff…

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I imagine all the characters are pretty miserable being cold all the time and not being able to curl up in blankets (can’t afford to be caught in a tangle of blankets when the enemy comes hacking through the bushes for your head)

Elemental Magic

I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE ELEMENTAL MAGIC IN FANTASY BOOKS!

The magic in this book complemented the historic setting well, the only thing that would have made it better would have been if we explored the history of the magic a little more. We get a basic understanding of the magic system and how the magic in people’s blood has diluted over the years. But maybe if we were told something about what the world was like when the magic was at its strongest or anything about its overall origins, then it would have made the world just that much richer to read about.

We love a good ol’ we gotta save the world storyline!

And while Through the White Wood didn’t have the whole world as what was at stake, I don’t doubt for a second that our antagonists (the Princes of the Drevlian and Novgorodian Kingdoms) would cause problems for everyone as soon as they were through with taking down Prince Sasha.

We follow this tale through the eyes of Katya, from when she is disowned by her village and sent to Prince Sasha after she loses control of her powers.

From the get go, Katya’s relationship with Prince Sasha is interesting. At first, she is completely terrified of him (some of the rumours said the Prince gathered people with abilities for evil reasons – like eating them or something) and then she kind of wants to be his friend/something more than a friend, but she’s convinced the only reason he spends time with her is because he wants her to use her power to aid him in the war.

Without being spoilery, we get to see Katya go from “what war?? I don’t know about no war. And I don’t WANT to know about no war.” to “Oh crumbs. There’s a war right in front of my face. Should I do something about this?? No. My powers too destructive. But I’m gonna use it anyway!”

As the story progresses and the threat of the war gets closer and closer to their homes, where all the things they love are – like their houses with all their books in them, and I guess their family and stuff – we also get to watch the characters learn more about themselves and the origins of their powers.

I’ll admit that after the halfway point things, pace wise, did slow down a little but I was so invested in the characters and the world that I didn’t mind. But I know some people get thrown off when the pace slows down, so be warned!

My one main complaint throughout the book, is Katya’s attitude to her powers. Like she’s understandably scared of them and what they might make her, but also she doesn’t really learn to love them until the very end and even then it’s a fragile love. I would have loved to see her embracing her powers as a part of herself as oppose to brushing them under the rug as often as she could.

Writing

One of the things I loved about the first of Jessica Leake’s books I read, was the writing. And with that, how well researched the mythology and folklore (in Beyond a Darkened Shore’s case – Nordic and Irish mythology) was. It was so clear that Leake has done some in depth research into the myths and such that she has included in her books. And I love to see it. Both for entertainment purposes but also educational! I devour myths and folklore like they’re snacks.

Leake’s writing was easy and entertaining to read and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any other books she writes!

Rating

I didn’t give this book a full 5 stars because while I really enjoyed reading it, I feel like it was just missing a little something that would have spiced it up to 5 stars. And when I look at all the other books I’ve rated 5 stars before this one doesn’t quite meet the same love levels as them.

I rated the first book, Beyond a Darkened Shore:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read Through the White Wood or any of Jessica Leake’s books?? What did you think?? Do you love reading books with Myths and Folklore in them too??

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