Benjanun Sriduangkaew creates a fascinating and very loose retelling of The Snow Queen folktale with Winterglass, a high fantasy novella that infuses steampunk technology and an interesting form of magic. With gorgeous prose and a refreshing perspective on fantasy in general, Sriduangkaew’s unique take on a classic tale creates a captivating narrative with twists, turns, and deadly secrets. Sriduangkaew’s own-voices retelling features an entirely POC cast and lots of queer rep, set in Southeast Asia. It’s a relatively quick read, and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the world of ice and intrigue.
We follow the narrative through two points of view, giving us a deeper look at the complicated and twisted workings of an intriguing world. Sriduangkaew balances the narrative across the different sides, leaving readers an interesting perspective on a world wrapped in ice. The narrative itself relies on a concept of a world in the process of being conquered by a deadly force, a queen who desires to be whole.
Nuawa, the main protagonist, is a duelist, a skilled warrior who fights not for pleasure, but because she is good at it. Nuawa has dedicated her life to becoming a weapon against the Winter Queen, who conquered her fiery homeland and remade it in snow, and she finds her first chance in the form of a tournament that offers her a place in the queen’s army. Nuawa’s past is shrouded in uncertainty and pretty prose, and readers must read closely to catch every scrap of it, making this novella more and more interesting. Meanwhile, the Winter Queen’s dedicated general, General Lussadh, is as loyal to the queen as they were a traitor to their own country. Lussadh is genderfluid, ruthless, dedicated, brilliant—I could go on, but suffice to say, Lussadh is a well-layered character and deserves to relax sometimes. Both characters are heroes in their own right, and the journey that they embark upon in this novella leaves them inevitably united.
Lussadh and Nuawa both bear within their chests a fragment of the queen’s mirror, and the intimacy between the two is both an inevitability and a destructive force of motivations and worlds colliding—a world that revolves around protecting the queen, and a world that revolves around destroying her. The queen, it seems, is conquering the world in order to search for these shards, embedded in the hearts of many people across many nations, and she will stop at nothing to put her mirror back together.
The worldbuilding itself is intricate and immersive, highly descriptive. The almost seamless melding of sci-fi and fantasy kept me engaged throughout the novella. From the protagonist’s comfortability with both a blade and a gun to a system of electric-like power that comes from the ghosts of the dead (and executed), the novella is consistently blending the most interesting qualities of each genre, giving it a vibrant background for Sriduangkaew to show off her characters and their relationships that make up the bulk of the novella. The combination of genres is a challenging feat done well, blending together a ghostly science and folk tale magic to create a universe that is both recognizable and alien. Sriduangkaew’s worldbuilding reminded me of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, but almost perfectly opposite—Winterglass is more fantasy than science, but both play with the concept of gender and explore a lack of it as well.
The fluidity of gender throughout the novella was brilliant, and helped me get invested in the characters and their world. Sriduangkaew eschews norms and builds her winter-struck world as a monument and almost a mirror of our own: the traditional society embraces the fluid concept, while foreigners are struck dumb and confused by their strange ways. The LGBT representation was bountiful and well done, and the entirety of the novella was queer and captivating. The relationships that are built throughout the novella rely on the essence of each person’s identity, and the queerness of the steamy scenes is just as affirming as the casual mentions of gender throughout the narrative. Speaking of steamy scenes, the sex in this novella is definitely NSFW, and very well-written. The novella explores both prostitution and relationship intimacy in attractive detail, sparing no detail in pleasure or pain.
With Winterglass, Sriduangkaew has created a fascinating novella. I read it straight through, and when I reached the end, I immediately wanted more. Sriduangkaew’s words were vivid and capturing, and I dearly hope that there is a sequel. Sriduangkaew gives readers just the bare bones of a cliffhanger, a danger looming over both Nuawa and Lussadh that is, again, inevitable and destructive. Enjoy the highly detailed world and fascinating, diverse characters that make up Winterglass, and keep an eye out for more.
Written by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Published December 2017 by Apex