Above the Snowline (Steph Swainston)

Above the Snowline is the fourth novel in the Fourland series by Steph Swainston. It’s a prequel, set before all of the other books.
[Here are my reviews of the others.]
Finished on: 26.12.2016

Plot:
Jant Shira is new to the Emperor’s circle of immortals. Being half Rhydanne, half Awian on top of his novice status, he often feels like an outcast and is eager to prove himself. The opportunity arises when Rhydanne Dellin comes to the Castle, seeking an audience with the Emperor. Dellin’s living space in the mountains is severely encroached upon by Awian settlers and she is here to ask for help. Jant gets sent to the mountains with Dellin to check out the situation and thus has to confront his own heritage.

I enjoyed Above the Snowline very much, and I continue to be a fan of the series. Above the Snowline offers some interesting takes on the Fourlands and on colonialism, but mostly, it provides great background information on Jant himself.

Above the Snowline is different from the other novels in the series, not only because it is set about a hundred years before the rest of the story and features a very different Jant. He’s not yet addicted to cat. He’s still new to the circle and very unsure of himself. And he hates the Rhydanne part of him – he’s certainly not at peace with who he is.

It’s an interesting starting point for the kind of examination of colonial structures that the book attempts. I am not sure how well it succeeds with the critical interrogation though. For one, while the book is told from many perspectives (another point that makes it different from the other novels that featured mostly Jant’s voice directly), but none of them are from a Rhydanne. So we still get the colonizer’s view of the “savages.” Even if Swainston shows very effectively that the Rhydanne aren’t savage, or at least not any more than the Awians, they still remain strange and at a distance. An inside view could have helped here. Especially because Jant isn’t really an insider. And even he barely gets to speak for himself in this book.

At the same time, Jant’s inbetween status and his own confrontation with his background gives the familiar “Dances with Wolves” type of story a new twist. His initial hatred for the Rhydanne and his own Rhydanne-ness shows just how hurtful this hate is as it combines aggressor and victim in a person, and it shows how little the hate has to do with the Rhydanne themselves.

So, it is interesting what Swainston does regarding the colonialism, but it is even more interesting what she does with Jant as a character and the switching of perspectives giving us an outside view on him. I did regreat a little that I still don’t know what happens after the events of The Modern World, but the Fourlands, Jant and the reader is enriched by the story Above the Snowline tells.

Summarizing: Strong entry in a wonderful series.

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