The lush worldbuilding and ice magic of Frozen meets the warm servant family dynamic of Downton Abbey in this stunning Danish historical fantasy, Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy.
Marit Olsen has always been afraid. Afraid of the Firn, the icy substance left in her veins after she uses magic, which will slowly build up and eventually kill her. Afraid of caring too much for Eve, another orphan girl at the mill, who’s like a sister to her. After losing her birth sister to the Firn years before, Marit never wants to feel that hurt again. But when Eve is adopted by Helene Vestergaard, wealthy owner of mines where Marit’s father died, Marit knows she will do anything to be close to Eve and keep her safe—even if that means using magic.
She’s able to secure a spot as a seamstress in the Vestergaard household, where she meets a whole host of people who practice magic as easily as breathing. Marit is drawn to their lack of fear and the warm, loving way they treat each other. Soon, she finds herself growing closer and closer to her co-workers, especially a boy named Jakob with wire spectacles and curly hair. But the more she gains, the more she has to lose.
When Helene’s brother-in-law Philip comes to visit, Marit starts to sense that all is not well. After finding a letter that her father left when he died, this fear is confirmed. She learns that the jewels found in the Vestergaard mines are not real—something much more dangerous and nefarious is afoot, something involving magic. Now, if she wants to save more lives than Eve’s, she must be brave and risk the Firn.
This book blew me away. Everything about it was stunning: the worldbuilding, the prose, the character dynamics, the well-crafted mystery. The writing flowed easily, but was still filled with beautiful descriptions. What impressed me most about her craft was how she managed to find an analogy or description for everything that related to ice. It really added to the atmosphere of the story.
Although the plot was clever and impressive, this novel shines because of the relationships between the characters. At the center is the sisterhood between Marit and Eve. Throughout the book, Marit loves Eve with everything she has, because Eve is all she has. She believes that she wants what is best for Eve, willing to risk the Firn to give it to her. In the end, however, she realizes that she’s been loving Eve selfishly, and she learns how to let that go and love selflessly instead, like a true sister would. This is primarily a story about family love, although Marit and Jakob have an adorable slow-burn romance that gives me all the feels.
Another theme that stood out to me was the book’s exploration of how we should respond to hate. Both Helene and Eve are of West Indies descent, which means that many in Denmark will never accept them because of their skin color. Helene teaches Eve the lesson that hate builds up like sugar crystals. It starts small, but if it’s not addressed, it grows and hardens over time, until eventually it becomes something ugly. Eve is urged not to allow her insides to become as ugly as others see her outsides, a lesson that sticks with both her and Marit throughout the story, and a lesson that has stuck with me ever since I closed its pages.
If you’re longing for a story of hope and found family, a story that will transport you to a glorious magical world, to warm your heart during these hard times, I highly recommend this book.