I don't know if reading this book in the depths of winter was a good idea or not but it certainly brought it home to me some of what the characters must have been feeling wandering the snowy wastes and mountains in the second half of the story.
I say second "half" as if there is any kind of structure, beginning, middle and end. Which belies the fact that this is probably the most fragmented story structure I have ever read although, I have to say, it is by design. The narrative consists of fragments of memory recalled by a dying queen and aimed at conveying her story to her estranged daughter (whom we never encounter in the story). These fragments are any thing from a couple of lines to a couple of pages long and one fragment never carries on directly from its predecessor. Gradually, as the narrative proceeds, a complete story is pieced together.
The narrative style is both the book's greatest strength and its greatest weakness depending on your point of view. For a lot of people, this will simply serve as a barrier to engaging with the story and characters; it simply cannot be read and enjoyed in a conventional way. But for others, like myself who crave something new and different from fantasy, will find it most refreshing.
It's unique narrative style is not the only thing that sets it apart from other fantasy though, it also has an elegant and thoughtful prose. The characters are well drawn, gritty and real, their emotions and feelings well conveyed. The hardship and physical suffering the characters endure on their quest is also convincingly portrayed.
I didn't know whether to give this four or five stars. I felt that I wanted to know a little bit more about why some of the characters did what they did and about what happened after this story concluded but these are both understandable omissions because this is most firmly the experience and memories of one character, we only see and understand the actions of others through her eyes and she is only interested in conveying a particular story, a particular chapter of her life. Therefore I can't really fault this book at all. Five stars it is.