I dove into A Touch of Stone and Snow as soon as I finished A Heart of Blood and Ashes. Lizzan and Aerax grew up together on Koth and were sweathearts until Lizzan was exiled in shame for telling the truth about how the soldiers she led were killed. They meet up again years later. The goddess Vela tasks Lizzan with protecting Aerax and promises to reward her with a glorious death in battle. Lizzan does not tell Aerax the truth about her quest or her reward. Aerax hasn’t told her the truth about why he didn’t leave with her.
Vane builds on the first book in so many interesting ways. One of the many things I didn’t talk about in my review was importance the Parsatheans put on speaking truth. I didn’t pay that much attention to it even though it was an important issue between Maddak and Yvenne. Maddak doesn’t fully become the man she deserves and the king his people deserve until he accepts Yvenne has not lied to him. Though Lizzan and Aerax are not Parsathean, they have to confront that the lies they’ve told each other and others in the past have harmed them and everyone around them. There is an even bigger lie that they have to confront about Koth.
Truth telling plays out in some of the side threads as well and those truths are likely to be resolved in the next book (or later books? Can this be an 8 book series?) One thread is carried from the first book: how will the truthful words spoken by the goddess Vela to various characters play out, because her truth is abstract. The other builds on the series arc of recovering from and preparing for the return of the Destroyer: an older woman Lizzan comes across is waiting for her son, who was taken by the Destroyer at age 4. She travelled the world trying to find him and now she waits for him to find her, even though she is certain he will hate her for failing to protect him.
I had a little bit of a rougher start with Lizzan and Aerax than I did with Maddak and Yvenne, but once I understood their conflict I fell in love with them. Lizzan might be rough for some readers at the start. She drinks too much and she is in the process of a long, slow implosion that will definitely end with her death. She is near the end of her rope emotionally, and that’s a hard place for me to connect with a character. Lizzan is a mirror of Yvenne in that she is a warrior and has the physical strength for which Yvenne longed. What she lacks is Yvenne’s knowledge of the world and understanding of all the ways people can be horrible. She lacks Yvenne’s fortitude.
It was interesting thinking about the big lie at the center of A Touch of Stone and Snow in this moment. White Americans, like the citizens of Koth, have been raised on a steady diet of comforting lies. To maintain itself, Koth must banish, shame and kill anyone who might reveal the truth. As a child Aerax and his mother almost die because they don’t fit comfortably into Kothan society. In the United States, the truth of our nation is right in front of us and some people are so hostile to seeing it that they will become monsters in order to be comfortable in the lies. Lizzan feels like she must be a monster to have been shunned and exiled. Aerax feels like he must become a monster to save the people of Koth. Neither of them are monsters, they operating in a monstrous system. That should be a familiar feeling to us all.
Vane really goes for the jugular in this book. She takes Lizzan and Aerax from the extremes of isolation and hopelessness, to deeply and happily in love, to all is lost before they get their happy ending.
“Never have you been restrained in the pleasure you give to me, and never have you held back your heart. So always I end here in this way, so utterly satisfied and fully loved, the most blessed of all women.”
She murdered me with beauty and emotion, and I liked it. If this moment had happened between two characters in A Game of Thrones, you could pretty much guarantee that one of them is about to die and the other will suffer horribly. Listening to an author panel recently one of them said that as a culture we assign greater value to misery than joy. I think there are lessons to be taken from the way we find joy. When Lizzan is suffering, the only redemption she can see is death in battle. When she chooses joy and community, her choices aren’t necessarily different, but the way she acts on those choices is directed towards a better world instead of self-absorbed misery. In this series of romances, the lovers aren’t just making choices for their own happiness or for their own family, but also for the world in which they live. They are choosing to move beyond their own myopic view and value people for who they are and not for how they fit preconceptions. They are choosing truth over comfort. Personally, I would like to live in a wold where lives were valued for themselves.
The worst thing about having read this now is that I have to wait a year before the next book.
I received this as an arc from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It’s out July 7th, so if you haven’t read A Heart of Blood and Ashes, you have time. There is also a novella, “The Beast of Blackmore” which is referenced in the book, but I haven’t read it yet. I will though. Soon.
edit: I should add a content warning for discussion of attempted suicide.