the Little Red Reviewer

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Posted on: December 23, 2017

Winterglass, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Published in December, 2017

where I got it: Received e-ARC, then immediately ordered the paperback

 

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I have been a fan of Benjanun Sriduangkaew since I read her short story of “The Bees Her Heart, The Hive Her Belly”, which appeared in Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix Vol 4, in the summer of 2013. That story involved a grafting of animal habitat into human (literally), and the prose was poetically effervescent.  I’ve been seeking out Sriduangkaew’s  work ever since, knowing that every time she puts out new fiction that I am in for a unique treat.   Oh, you’ve never read her before? That’s no problem, as Winterglass is a stand alone novella available in print and e-book format.  You can catch up on everything else later.

 

For such a slender novella, Sriduangkaew deftly weaves a number of unspoken conversations into a story that at first blush, is simply a story of political intrigue laced with romance.  There is the conversation about  General Lussadh, who was once a crown prince, and is now a traitor to her homeland, yet still believes she can be redeemed.  There is the conversation about the gladiator Nuawa, who has been speaking and thinking in doubletalk so long now that it no longer matters who the spies are. There are unspoken conversations about assimilation, shame, and jealousy.

 

Simmering just beneath the surface, and so obvious that not a single character needs to (or will risk) mentioning it, is the conversation of colonialism and forced assimilation through climate change.  At first, you won’t even see these conversations, as they are slippery and easily hidden by characters who would prefer to speak of anything else. And thanks to the symphonically beautiful prose, you’ll think you’re just reading some fairy tale type story that takes place in the fantasy city-state of Sirapirat.

 

Did I mention this is a retelling and re-interpreted version of the fairy tale The Snow Queen?  And that the descriptions of food are so amazing that I am waiting with baited breath for the companion cookbook?

 

If  Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Strategem, Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades had a love child, that booklovechild would flirtatiously steal glances at Winterglass from across the room.  I imagine they would communicate their interest in each other through a system of cybernetic hummingbirds.

The way the story unfolds becomes a map, inviting the reader to explore the alleys and architecture of Sirapirat.  Sriduangkaew has a lot she needs to tell you, but there’s not a shred of infodumping here.  The gorgeous writing is filled with metaphors and descriptions that sing in your blood,  dancing between the thrill and lust of a dangerous romance, while deflecting the way politics and history can poison relationships.    I would quote my favorite passages, but there are about 50 of them.

 

Nuawa is second generation conquered, she has never experienced summer, or dragonflies, or rice paddies. She doesn’t remember what she is supposed to be missing.  She isn’t angry, because this is all she knows.  Nuawa’s family haw always let her seek her own path, and she gravitated towards the fighting ring.  She’s good at it, and it’s good money, so why not.  When the Queen’s Tournament is announced, Nuawa immediately tells her manager and her mother that she will be registering for the tournament. The winner will be given a position in the royal military.  The losers will be fed to the ghost kilns.

 

(wait, what? Ghost Kilns?  Yep. The city is powered by the energy created by ghost kilns. Criminals, undesirables, and children whose parents can’t afford to feed them are fed into the kilns. It is the only way to keep buildings and water heated.  Nuawa herself spend some time in a ghost kiln once.  Sriduangkaew’s writing often features bio-machines, it is always hella cool)

 

There is no need for the Queen herself to be present for these tournaments. Most of them take place in the fighter’s mindspace anyways, augmented by dream drugs and time dilation. Her second in command, General Lussadh, will officiate the games. Unofficially Lussadh is seeking others who may have a shard of the Queen’s mirror in their heart.  It isn’t a smell, or a way they speak or move, but Lussadh can tell when she’s in the presence of other glass bearers.

 

I want to talk about this winter thing, and climate change, and forced assimilation, and colonialism for a bit, because it is fascinating to me.  The people of Sirapirat can defend themselves against attackers. They are a city state,  they have a military and weapons, and soldiers and such. Or at least they had.  They were a tropical city – there was fishing, there was monsoon, there were paper lanterns and open verandas. Homes opened as much as possible to catch what breeze there was.  They have no defenses against the temperatures plummeting 70 degrees and permanently staying there.  The fish are locked under ice, the paper lantern will not keep you warm, the open verandas now appear as a cruel joke. No more walking around in a sarong and barefoot.  To survive, to live, you must put on heavy furs, boots, build a fireplace, cut down trees for fuel, change your diet.  You can assimilate, or freeze to death.  What happens when your children have only known winter, and furs, and ice skating?  Can your really blame them for assimilating?  I feel for Nuawa’s mother. She plays a long game, and I have a deep respect for every moment of it.  Did she realize how well she taught her daughter?

 

I loved every page of Winterglass. It’s been about a week since I finished reading this, and the last quarter of the book, where everything happens in a crashbang of reveals, promises made to the past and promises made to the future, and what it truly means to bind yourself to a purpose, all of that is still the most glorious ice-water shock to me.

 

I have purposely not mentioned (or at least not explicitly mentioned) some of the defining characteristics of Winterglass.  You’ll have no trouble finding mention of them in other reviews you may come across.  However, if my review has made you interested in reading Winterglass, I entreat you to pick this book up and give it a read, with no knowledge ahead of time of what I have not mentioned.

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1 Response to "Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew"

Cool to have climate change be the vector for assimilation

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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