Our Lady of the Snow by Louise Cooper (Headline, 1998)
At just over three-hundred pages this fantasy novel is far more slender than anything I’m used to within the genre, but in terms of story it certainly didn’t hang around.
To say that Louise Cooper was a prolific author is to risk serious understatement. Before she died in 2009 aged 57, she had published more than eighty fantasy and supernatural novels for adults and children.
Many of her fantasy novels are structured in the near-obligatory trilogy, and she is best known for her Time Master trilogy. However, Our Lady of the Snow is a novel whose characters’ stories are completed within the one book. It’s been quite a long time since I read a fantasy novel that was entirely self-contained, and I was surprised at just how satisfying an experience that was. Perhaps we should all be doing more of it!
When Our Lady of the Snow begins, Nanta is studying to become a full-time nun. She is kind, apparently obedient and in many ways the embodiment of spiritual ideal within a religious community. Her tractability gains the attention of the courtiers seeking a bride for the current emperor’s oldest son, Osiv.
Above all, they seek someone who will keep Osiv’s secret: he is disabled, emotionally and intellectually stuck in childhood and entirely unfit to take over after his father. The line of succession is therefore faltering.
The matter is urgent because under Vyskir law and custom, the emperor’s younger son Kodor cannot marry until his older brother takes a wife. The emperor is old and his health is failing. Everyone is sure that Osiv won’t be able to father an heir, but the imperial family have negotiated a strategic marriage between Kodor and the daughter of their greatest rival.
The narrative moved along nicely. The explanation of why Nanta and Pola had been chosen as royal brides was well set up, but the weddings took place quickly and the focus of Our Lady of the Snow pivoted to the threat to Osiv’s health from scheming courtiers and Kodor’s growing feelings for Nanta, now his sister-in-law.
Our Lady of the Snow had elements of fantasy romance about it via the focus on Kodor falling in love with Nanta and trying to hide his feelings. There was plenty of spiritual magic and supernatural power to go around, but not much action in the sword part of sword and sorcery. However, it was about much more than romance.
Nanta’s feelings for Kodor are different to his for her. She has a purity in her life, her caring role in looking after her husband Osiv which she acknowledges is more like looking after a child than an adult. She is kindness embodied. Her hidden powers start to emerge and she unwittingly brings several displays of Corolla Lights, like the Northern Lights but in Vyskir considered to have a spiritual dimension.
I loved Our Lady of the Snow. The romance was there, but it was not the centre of the narrative and it was fairly clear from the outset that Nanta’s destiny did not lie in taking a lover or ruling in her husband’s place. She was otherworldly in a decent, loving and moral way that made her more of a spiritual leader than anything else.
An entirely different experience to many fantasy novels, but wonderful and a novel I would highly recommend.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Father of the Bride here.