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This review was first posted at A Backwards Story on March 28, 2014
during Fairy Tale Fortnight
If you love fairy tales as much as I do, when you finish reading FIRST FROST, you're going to be a little bit devastated. This is the same sense of ugly-weeping that comes from realizing you will never have a library as beautiful as the one Beast gives Beauty. It's tangible sadness. Why? The book's main character, Bianca, works in her mother's Museum of Magical and Rare Artifacts...which is a fancy way of saying fairy tale museum. How amazing would it be to have a fairy tale museum in town? And themed rooms such as the Princess Room, where weekly storytimes for children take place? Going to the Narnia exhibit a few years ago was incredible, even though it wasn't "real," and I know I'd have the same feeling in a fairy tale museum. It would be even cooler if, like in FIRST FROST, the artifacts in the museum were real. From a red cape to a brick from a Little Pig's house to a sample of Rapunzel's hair, there are many dangerous items hiding in plain sight.
No one believes the items are real, of course, especially not Bianca. It would be neat if they were, but she lives in the real world and knows better. Only...Bianca doesn't know as much as she thinks she does. Her mother has been hiding a deep, dangerous secret from her. They're direct descendants of the first Frost, Snow White herself, and knee-deep in an ancient curse that has already stolen away Bianca's father. When her mother is captured by an evil villain bent on destroying the family once and for all, Bianca must throw aside everything she's ever known, discover magic, and journey through a land she never believed could actually exist.
While FIRST FROST starts off a little slowly, I didn't mind because as I stated in my opening paragraph, I was in complete awe of the fabulous museum. Once Bianca discovers the truth behind the museum and has her eyes opened, the story really gets rolling. Bianca isn't in the journey alone, either. She travels between worlds with her best friend Ming, and the girls come across a travelling Prince Ferdinand and his companion Terrance. Proper males brought up never to leave a damsel in distress, they quickly accompany the girls on their journey. Each character is uniquely developed, too. They may not be deep characters, but they're a lot of fun to be around. There's the pompous prince who isn't necessarily the dashing hero girls dream of. Terrance has a mysterious, intriguing background that comes into play later on. Ming is a true friend despite her fears. And Bianca is a great example of a true hero: One who is brave in the face of danger despite the fact that she's terrified. She loves her mother fiercely and will do anything to save her. She grows so fast and becomes very powerful by the novel's end. It was a pleasure to watch her blossom. I enjoyed all of the nods to various fairy tales along the way and really appreciated the way Liz DeJesus turned ordinary fairy tale items into important objects that played a role in Bianca's journey. I ultimately had a lot of fun reading this and would pick up another book by DeJesus in the future.
Mother and daughter looked into each other’s eyes for a brief moment. She felt ready to fight alongside her mother and actually be of some assistance. Bianca wanted to argue with Rose, but instead she reluctantly obeyed and went upstairs. She made it as far as the top of the steps.
“Come out, you coward!” Lenore shouted.
If there was one thing Bianca knew for sure, it was that her mother would never, ever back out of a fight. She slowly inched her way down the stairs. Rose stepped out of the house and was far away from the safety of her wards. Bianca tried to call as little attention to herself as humanly possible. She duck-walked across the living room until she was directly underneath the broken window. She peeked every now and then to watch her mother in action.
“Where’s the book?” Lenore asked.
“Where is my husband?” Rose demanded.
“How about we make a trade? Your husband for the book,” Lenore said.
Rose remained silent. Bianca knew that somewhere in her mother’s mind she was seriously considering trading whatever book Lenore was talking about for her father.
“You’re not getting anywhere near that book,” Rose replied.
Lenore snarled and contorted her face in anger as she created a fireball and threw it at Rose.
She created a wall of water around her, and the fireball vanished with a hiss. She then used the water that surrounded her and attacked her adversary.
Lenore used an ice spell and froze the water, and caused it to crash all around her with soft clinks.
“You have to learn to control your brat. I can smell her better now that she’s downstairs,” Lenore said and then cackled.
“You shut your filthy mouth about my daughter,” Rose shouted.
“Want to come out and play, little one?” Lenore taunted.
“Bianca! Stay inside the house. Do you hear me?!”
“Mom, let me help,” Bianca pleaded.
“You do as I say!” Rose snapped.
Bianca’s heart skipped a beat as she ducked underneath the window. She knew she was safe inside the house because of the wards. Bianca risked a peek at the battle, and the witches were fighting viciously. They were both putting everything they had into their spells and doing everything in their power to destroy each other.
Lenore had Rose trapped in a small tornado. Bianca could see her bright red hair whipping in every direction imaginable as her mother struggled to counter the spell. It was enough time for the dark witch to reach in and take something out of her pocket. Lenore pulled out a tiny glass vial and drank a black potion that swam inside the container.
What is that?
Lenore flashed her sharp yellowed teeth at Bianca and then turned her attention to Rose. Bianca turned her gaze to her mother and saw that she had finally countered Lenore’s tornado spell. Lenore took a deep breath and then blew black fire at Rose. The dark flames took on the shape of a sinister dragon.
Bianca gasped; she had never seen anything so menacing in her life. The dragon’s yellow eyes zeroed in on Rose. It chuckled as it looked upon her. It launched itself at her mother and wrapped itself around her body. The dragon pried Rose’s mouth open and shoved its clawed hand down her throat.
“No!” Bianca shouted. The blood in her veins froze, her stomach dropped, and her heart leaped to her throat. She watched in horror as her mother did everything she could to fight off Lenore’s monster…and failed.
“Mom!” Bianca dashed to the front door and stopped herself from running into the front yard.
Lenore had kicked Rose in the stomach and grabbed a fistful of her red hair. The smoke dragon took away Rose’s voice. She was now mute. She looked like a fish out of water as she tried to cast a counter spell, but it was no use. The damage had been done. Her mother had lost her voice and the battle. Rose turned her green eyes to Bianca.
“There, now we can have a little chat…no interruptions. Come on out here and sit with me a while,” Lenore said. The false saccharine in her voice was obvious.
Rose shook her head violently. Bianca knew what her mother wanted her to do. She wasn’t sure she could obey Rose’s request to stay inside the house now that she was in danger of losing her life.
I can’t just sit here and do nothing. God…what do I do? What do I do?
“Come here!” Lenore roared as her face contorted with rage, making her look uglier and older than she actually was. Lenore yanked on Rose’s hair so hard she opened her mouth as though she were screaming…except no sound came out of her lips.
Liz DeJesus was born on the tiny island of Puerto Rico. She is a novelist and a poet. She has been writing for as long as she was capable of holding a pen. She is the author of the novel NINA (Blu Phi'er Publishing, October 2007), THE JACKETS (Arte Publico Press, March 31st 2011) FIRST FROST (Musa Publishing, June 22nd 2012) and GLASS FROST (Musa Publishing).