Audiobook Review: The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly
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 (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Warrior Witch
Publisher: HarperAudio (January 12, 2021)
Length: 14 hrs and 52 mins
Narrator: Imani Jade Powers
Mark my words, we’ve got the hidden gem of the year right here, folks, and its name is The Frozen Crown! A fantasy debut by Greta Kelly, this book was utterly absorbing and took me by surprise in the best of ways. From the first word to the very last, I was riveted by the story, the characters, all the magic and the politics, and yes, even those little fine sparks of romance.
Set in a world of rivaling empires, the rightful heir to a beleaguered realm must find a way to regain her throne and repel an invasion, but in order to succeed, she will need to raise herself a grand army. For many months now, the warrior princess Askia of Serevesh has been fighting a losing battle, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Taking along a small contingent of her most loyal guard, she travels south to Vishir in the hopes of securing aid from the emperor, who was a good friend to her late parents.
Yet for all her skills with a blade, Askia finds herself no match for the convoluted southern customs and elaborate rules of the imperial court, and while she herself may have roots in Vishir, her enemies in the capital far outnumber her friends. Fortunately, our protagonist has a secret weapon—a rare kind of magic that might possibly gain her access to the mysterious Shadow Guild whose members could help unlock her true potential. With the empire still very much divided on the subject of witches though, Askia must tread carefully despite her willingness to risk everything to save her people. If playing the petty political games of the nobility will get her what she needs, then she will gladly do so, even if it means having to sacrifice her own hopes and dreams.
Before I continue, I’ve noticed this novel being classified as Young Adult in several places even though its marketing doesn’t really support this, not to mention that Askia is also in her early 20s. That said, it’s understandable why some might categorize it that way, given a few of its shared elements with YA and the fact that it was such a breezy read. Still, the intricacies of the politics, the character motivations, the conflicts and the stakes at hand are clearly intended for more mature audiences, and at most, I would say this book straddles that ideal middle ground of giving readers the best of both worlds. Try to imagine a fantasy narrative that feels comfortable and familiar yet its finer details are often pieced together in a way that completely defies expectations, and that’s how I would describe The Frozen Crown.
In other words, while I can give you the basic gist of the story, the reality is not so simple. Askia might be a princess looking for allies in her bid to take back her crown, but as the plot thickens, one might be surprised to find the line between friend and enemy to be thinner than a knife’s edge. This was a lesson I learned early with the big plot twist that was dropped on us at the beginning, the first of many more shockers to come. Later on, Kelly deftly weaves layer upon layer of intrigue and danger into each scene as her protagonist navigates the treacherous political landscape of Vishir. Along the way, she also manages to work in a wealth of historical information and context to explain the background of her world and characters without having to resort endless exposition. Everything we needed to know—and I won’t lie, it was quite a lot—was revealed organically and in sync with plot events while still leaving plenty of room for Askia to flex her diplomatic muscles and develop her relationships with the other characters. Heck, I even appreciated the light touch of romance which was just a minor aspect of the story, but my interest was piqued nonetheless.
To tell the truth, I can find few faults with this book, which makes the fact that it is a debut even more amazing. I suppose if I had to nitpick though, perhaps the magical systems could have been better explained. We know, for instance, that there are various types of magic users categorized by the abilities they possess, and that these powers can range in terms of rarity and strength. The nature of Askia’s own magic is very specific, and I won’t spoil the details here, though I will say I’d wished for more clearly defined rules and explanations on how her powers worked. Another thing I would have liked to see was more of the world, though this was by no means a dealbreaker. Given the limitations presented by Askia’s point-of-view and the need for her to travel in certain circles to fulfill her goal, I didn’t expect the world-building to expand much beyond the narrow scope of Vishir aristocracy, though I certainly wouldn’t object if the next book showed us more either, so here’s hoping.
Of course, there are so many more reasons to look forward to the sequel, not least of all the way The Frozen Crown ended, which was a cliffhanger to be sure—though thankfully not one that leaves you with questions unanswered, just a pumped up all-consuming need to find out what happens next! As the first half of a duology, it certainly did its job of getting me hooked, delivering everything I could ever want in a character-focused fantasy. I can’t wait to get more.
Audiobook Comments: A special shoutout to narrator Imani Jade Powers who made the story and characters extra powerful. Not only did she provide a great voice for Askia, masterfully bringing forth our protagonist’s spirited personality and clever disposition, her flawless sense of timing and smooth narration kept me on the edge of my seat. Highly recommended.