YA Weekend: The Cold is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (January 22, 2019)
Length: 288 pages
You’d think the snakes on the cover would have clued me in, but the truth is, I didn’t find out that The Cold is in Her Bones was supposed to be inspired by the myth of Medusa until the day I started it. And in some ways, I wish I had remained blissfully unaware. For you see, knowing leads to expectations—expectations that weren’t quite met. It wasn’t the story or the characters that put me off, exactly; it was the fact that this book was trying to be more than it was.
Our protagonist is Milla, who has spent her entire life on her family’s farm, never once setting foot off the property. Her whole world consists of only the five people she has ever known: her mother Gitta, her father Jakob, her older brother Niklas, and an elderly couple her parents had hired to help on the farm, Stig and Trude. To say she was an overprotected and sheltered child is an understatement, but there is a reason why Milla has been forbidden to ever travel to the village or come in contact with other people—especially with other young women. It is a dark secret her parents have kept from her since the day she was born, though Milla has always suspected something was amiss by the disappointed looks Jakob gives her, or the fear in Gitta’s eyes whenever they settle upon her only daughter.
Then one day, everything changes when it is announced that the farm will be getting a new visitor. Niklas will soon come of marrying age, and it is everyone’s hope that he and Stig and Trude’s granddaughter will hit it off. And so arrives Iris, a beautiful and vivacious girl from the village. But instead of feeling resentful towards the newcomer—who is sophisticated and worldly—our protagonist finds herself completely awed by Iris, happy that she finally has a friend.
But then Iris begins to change. She confesses something that Milla has long feared to be the case: that their village is cursed, and that the demons her parents have always warned her about are real. And now, whatever that has been possessing the village’s young women at random has gotten its hooks in Iris too. Devastated as she is, however, Milla becomes too distracted to confront an even greater and more alarming problem—that she herself is beginning to change. First, there came the voices, and then, the tiny emerald-green snake that had mysteriously sprouted from her head…
If you think this synopsis sounds awesome, that’s because it is. But man, the execution was kind of a mess. For one thing, it is hard not to feel like I’ve been oversold a bill of goods, because aside from the allusions cast by the snakes in Milla’s hair, there really isn’t much else to do with Medusa, which was disappointing considering how the story of Perseus slaying the Gorgon is one of my favorite tales from classical Greek mythology. In truth, there really isn’t much to set this novel apart from a host of other YA fiction claiming to be about female friendships and selling a message of young women standing up against society’s expectations. While it’s great that we have stories like this, I can’t pretend this one is in any way a standout among a sea of similarly themed books.
One reason for this is Milla, who, as a protagonist, was kind of bland. It’s also one thing to have a completely naïve main character (because given Milla’s upbringing in this case, the characterization fits), but simply quite another to portray her as being so stupid as to ignore all evidence in front of her that taking certain actions would be a bad idea. As a reader, few things are more frustrating than watching a character run headlong into a disaster of her own making, not to mention how Milla appeared to lack conviction in anything, constantly doubting herself and changing her opinions on a dime.
It also didn’t help that I found the writing to be overly simplistic, a style which sometimes works well for fairy tale retellings but doesn’t always lend itself to in-depth character development or world-building. All the relationships depicted were flat, from Milla’s supposed close bond with her brother to the much-vaunted friendship between her and Iris, which really didn’t feel all that special, no matter how many times the writing tried awkwardly to shove it in my face. Perhaps if the book had been longer, these relationships could have been better explored, but I just didn’t feel there was enough time for the author to accomplish everything she wanted.
So all in all, I thought this was okay—nothing to write home about, but certainly enjoyable enough and satisfying in that it provided a decent few hours of entertainment. I might even have appreciated it more had my expectations for the book not been so high right before I started, so provided that you approach this with a realistic mindset, this could turn out to be a good read.