Hi everybody, and welcome to a new Top Ten Tuesday!
As you may have guessed from this weeks’ title, I’m kind of cheating. The actual post for today should have been ‘Top Ten Hidden Gems in X Genre’. But, as I have explained in the past, I am the absolute worst at discovering hidden gems. My TBR consists mostly of a huge backlist of popular books I still need to get to. I very rarely pick up a book when I have not heard about it before or have not been recommended it by my bookish friends. It’s a big shame of mine and I’m constantly working on it. Add to that the fact that I just got out of a reading slump and well, I wouldn’t be able to give you any hidden gems that I haven’t already talked about before.
However, I did discover one magnificent, glorious hidden gem this year so I figured “Why not talk about that series in particular?” I mean, it’s not like I’ve already raved about this in the past. Or sneakily tried to include it in pretty much every Top Ten Tuesday since. Right? Erm…
Anyway, with that said, please allow me to introduce you to the wonderful Red Winter trilogy by Annette Marie and present to you TEN reasons why it’s THE hidden gem you need on your YA fantasy lovin’ bookshelf!
First, what’s it about?
In a few short months, Emi’s mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess—and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.
Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command—whether she wants him or not.
On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate—but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.
Why it’s SO good I can’t stop talking about it
1. Japanese mythology
Maybe it’s just me, but there don’t seem to be that many Japanese mythology books out there. I mean, sure, I could read about dragons and wyverns all day long. I love paranormal creatures, but vampires and werewolves are everywhere. And most of us probably learned a thing or two about Greek mythology from Rick Riordan. But Japanese mythology? Give me more! The creatures in this book are so intriguing and magical and new and lovely and you’ll be intrigued before you know it!
2. Glorious worldbuilding
The world in the Red Winter trilogy is so beautifully written and so much thought has gone into the development. To be fair, the first 20% or so is pretty dense. There is a lot of information to process, a lot of names to learn and it might be a little complex and intimidating at first. But please trust me, it is so worth it. Once you are completely immersed in the world, you’ll never want to leave it. Also, it does help that there is a handy glossary at the end and the ebooks even have links to images to help you visualize. It is a gorgeous, well-developed and vividly described world that I’m still not ready to say goodbye to.
3. Gorgeous illustrations
Did you know that every single book in this trilogy also includes 10 absolutely gorgeous full-page illustrations by Brittany Jackson? Not only are they heart-stoppingly beautiful, they also really help visualize the scenes and characters vividly.
Our main character Emi definitely not your average fantasy heroine. When she was 8 years old, she was marked by Amaterasu, the goddess who will use Emi as a vessel to walk on earth. This moment is what Emi has been training and working her whole life towards and it is almost here. However, it means that she has been very sheltered and is lonely. She may not have great physical strength, but she is filled with so much kindness and courage and it makes her a great protagonist. In fact, she may have become one of my all-time favorite heroines ever. Her development thoughout the entire series has been amazing and I have nothing but respect for her. Her fate has pretty much been sealed from the beginning, and this heavy burden could have turned her into someone else entirely, but she has grown into an incredibly strong, brave and mature young woman. Her fears and worries are very much present and real, but she handles everything with a grace and maturity that can only be admired.
Our main hero may not be your traditional hero. He’s a kitsune, a mischievous fox-spirit, who has been cursed and can’t remember anything about his past. When Emi saves him, he is in her debt and that’s really when the story takes off. He’s a great character, one who you’re not completely certain you can trust, someone who is unpredictable and cunning and mysterious and just that perfect bit of morally grey. Oh, and he’s also a big, unapologetic flirt. But what could have been a one-dimensional character turned into such a deeply layered and complex guy.
Yumei is the third part of our little trio here and boy is he amazing. The stoic Prince of Shadows could have easily been another a walking, breathing stereotype, but Annette Marie fleshed him out so wonderfully and turned him into a fully fleshed-out and realistic character. It’s super intriguing to see his relationship with the other characters develop throughout the series and enjoyable to observe the contrast this stoic Prince of Shadows offered to the human, emotional Emi and the teasing, fun-loving Shiro.
7. The unlikely friendship
I never gave any thought to the term slow-burn friendship before, but this series is the perfect example of exactly that. These three characters couldn’t be any more different, and while it seems highly unlikely at first, they form a connection and grow to trust, respect and care for eachother so, so much. The friendship that has grown between all three of these characters pulled at my heartstrings throughout the entire series and I adored every single scene they had together.
8. The perfect pacing
Okay, the first 20% or so of Red Winter is pretty information-heavy. But once past that mark, once Emi and Shiro meet, this is one huge, epic adventure with perfect pacing. It was a thrill to go on these adventures with Emi and Shiro, meet all these amazing characters and fantastical creatures and learn more about the world. It’s a whirlwind ride that’s pretty hard to put down once you started. The pacing in this series is also one of my favorites. I mean, there is so much going on, so much to do, so much action and so many epic scenes and still it is all balanced so perfectly with a few slower moments, moments of contemplation, character development and romance and I am so here for all of it! For me, this series was the perfect mix of a plot-driven AND a character-driven story.
9. the slow-burn Romance
How can there still be room for romance when there is already so much worldbuilding and action going on? Well, there is and it is glorious and heart-wrenching and just the right amount and perfectly paced. Every single scene between these two characters is sizzling and so of course they will go down in history as one of my beloved OTP’s. No insta-love here, but the best slow-burn you can imagine. Also, though there are a few hints at the very beginning, no love triangle AT ALL!
10. Those gorgeous covers
Seriously, have you seen how absolutely gorgeous these covers are? Wouldn’t they look amazing on your bookshelf?