Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew isn’t for everyone, but it should be. I went into it without knowing much other than the main character was a female fighter trying to win a competition. What I got was a beautiful, imaginative, southeast Asian-inspired reimagining of the Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. A world where the Winter Queen slowly takes over lands, giving them eternal winter.
Winterglass’ language is rich, lush, and dense. Not an easy read even though it is a novella. Sriduangkaew dives right in and there were more than a few moments when I had to stop to figure out what was going on. In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been a fatal flaw. After all, you don’t want to lose your readers. But Sriduangkaew’s prose is so damn beautiful, I didn’t mind. In fact, taking moments to savor a clever phrase, or seeing how Sriduangkaew mentions things without explain them, immersed me further in the story. Sometimes I didn’t understand what was happening, but I trusted that Sriduangkaew would not let me down and I would figure it out so I went along with the ride to see where it would take me. I know not everyone likes that kind of story, but I thoroughly enjoyed piecing together things like how energy and heating and ghosts were all tied together.
The driving action of Nuawa’s story, a duelist who fights for the entertainment of the rich in the land of Siraparat, is a competition whereby the winner lands a plum spot in the Winter Queen’s army. Underneath this action is the question of Nuawa’s motives. Is she competing in order to kill this conquering winter queen at some point? Is she an unwitting tool for her mother/aunt? Sriduangkaew’s weaves Nuawa’s backstory in delicately. Hinting, but giving away little with references to Nuawa’s death as a six year old and a family in hiding.
Sriduangkaew’s use of non-conforming gender language is, if you are not expecting it, a little startling at first. At times using “they” when speaking of a single person and at times non-gender specific pronouns. I found I rather liked it, because it shows a society where not everyone has to be, or identify, as one or other. Some do, some don’t. It’s all cool.
Additionally, the queen’s top general Lussadh al-Kattan, and eventually Nuawa’s lover, is neither male nor female (or both) and we see other non-gender-conforming characters. Sriduangkaew gives us a post-gender world that feels real.
Highly recommended if you want something fresh and are prepared to go along and slowly uncover the world and Nuawa’s story.
I hate to be that person but I hope Sriduangkaew is planning on continuing the story. Nuawa wins the competition by the end of the novella, but at a hefty (and heart wrenching) price. I want to see how Nuawa’s story ends, how she accomplishes what she wants to do and how it will affect her relationships.
Winterglass is available at Apex Book Company in both book and e-book formats.