“Though Yumei had ignored all her requests for human necessities, he’d at least recognized she couldn’t go days without eating. Food kept turning up on his table— fresh, hot meals in glossy white boxes.”
- Annette Marie, Dark Tempest (The Red Winter Trilogy Book 2)
- Picture by Brittany Jackson, from Red Winter
I haven’t felt up to reading anything heavy lately, so I re-read all of Annette Marie’s Steel & Stone books, which are everything you’ve ever cringed at/dreamed of in young adult fantasy: magic, girl-power heroines, epic quests, eye-gazing true love, leather arm bracers, world-destroying weapons, men with tiny pet dragons, and world leaders who ask teenagers for help. Afterwards, I decided to check out this trilogy Marie (there’s no way that’s her last name; interesting choice) has been working on lately, the Red Winter books. They’re a pretty different animal from the Steel & Stone series.
The series is based in Japanese mythology, which I only know touches of, so it was delightful and different to learn a whole new lexicon of magical creatures and gods. As in Norse mythology (and in Marie’s previous series), there’s an overworld and an underworld, and humans live in the middle. Most of them go about their daily modern lives without even noticing the supernatural all around them. Emi is different. She’s been raised as a priestess to an ancient benevolent goddess who needs a human host to retain a presence on earth (I know that sounds super weird, but Marie pulls it off pretty well). Emi’s been set apart by the goddess for that duty, but as the deadline draws closer, she finds herself doubting her fate, which leads her into danger, which drops her smack in the middle of a snarl of otherworldly politics.
Emi is sheltered and a little prudish, qualities that are balanced by sincere generosity and kindness. While she is forced to do battle more than once and doesn’t lack courage, her natural state is peaceful, and she is always focused on the needs of others (to a degree that can be unhealthy). I realized I have missed this type of character in an era/genre that gives all the attention to battle-ready alpha girls who break all the rules. I’m rarely sweet, myself, but lots of people are, and they should be valued and should be able to show up in literature without being seen as weak. The hero, too, has a personality unusual for the genre. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers.
Even though it wouldn’t be YA fantasy if the world weren’t at stake, even the goals of the heroes are a little different than usual. Because the structure of the supernatural is set up to maintain balance, there can’t be any true villains that have to be annihilated. Destroying anyone would disrupt the balance. The goal of the heroes is not to achieve victory but to restore harmony, an Eastern attitude that it is refreshing to see in the often black-and-white world of the fantasy genre.