Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

From his earliest memory, docile Zanoah has never felt like he fit in anywhere. As a child living in the unforgiving jungle, his parents grudgingly provided only the basics for him. When the jungle killed them, Zanoah’s brother blamed him for their deaths and only reluctantly took Zanoah with him to the high-tech city of Tadena. There, Shaan trained Zanoah in combat and forced Zanoah to act as his secret agent. Zanoah would do anything for any scrap of affection, so he followed his brother’s orders, hoping against hope that one day, he would be enough. Instead of earning his brother’s approval, Zanoah was caught doing Shaan’s dirty work and ended up witnessing his brother’s execution before being exiled from the city to the murderous jungle.

The jungle is no easy place to survive, yet somehow Zanoah manages to find shelter in a system of caves deep in the earth. The people living there are strange and have even stranger ideas about worshiping a deity to gain that deity’s power. Still, Zanoah is hopeful that maybe here he can start a new life with people who approve of him. When Zanoah is unable to reciprocate the romantic advances of one amorous young man, however, the whole cycle of loathing and self-hatred begins again. Except this time, Zanoah finds Caean, the deity being held captive by the cave people. Zanoah is immediately and irresistibly drawn to Caean; he vows to free the deity. But once they break free of the cave, Zanoah learns there’s much more to fear than zealots. A powerful deity named Basilios is hunting Caean and will stop at nothing to get him back. Zanoah must rely on new friends and old enemies if he has a hope of saving Caean from Basilios’ clutches.

First Snow is the first in the Deity Chronicles series from author Jake Vanguard. The story is narrated in third-person perspective from Zanoah’s point of view. It’s set in a fantastical world that feels like it’s divvied up like an adventuresome map with a sentient jungle and labyrinthine caves, a futuristic city under a seemingly permanent sand storm, and a town full of brainwashed acolytes loyal to an evil deity. Each location highlights how differently the people in this world are. As varied as the locales and groups are, however, they all have a part to play in the story. If you enjoy stories that come full circle, I think you’ll enjoy how Vanguard has worked that concept into the story.

The world building in this story, the imaginative settings and the various cultures and values depicted, are amazing. Our two MCs, Zanoah and Caean, are equally intriguing. The narrative voice clearly conveys how gentle and insecure Zanoah is. He is basically unloved as a child and treated like dirt by everyone in his family right up until Shaan is killed at the start of this story. That treatment robbed Zanoah of any confidence. This is a major theme with him and it colors so many of the interactions he has with others in the book, even Caean later in the story. Zanoah’s journey towards confidence and self acceptance spans the whole story and Caean plays a critical role in helping him realize he’s worthy. That said, we’re almost never far from an incident that leaves Zanoah doubting himself. Nevertheless, he slowly and selflessly lets Caean into his heart and these two form an intimate connection.

On that note, I would suggest the romance here feels like it swings firmly (if not absolutely) asexual and I. am. here. for. that. This was such a wonderful reminder that intimacy does not have to revolve around or even involve sex. Both Zanoah and Caean were enthusiastically engaging in intimate touch like hugs and kisses or sharing a bed (honestly, for sleep!) and open about their feelings towards other kinds of physical intimacy—specifically that it was not something they were actively interested in. Their closeness is helped by the way Caean and Zanoah can share their thoughts directly with one another as part of Caean’s deity powers. This, too, is a device that shows how close these two can get–and also touches on some interesting themes of dis/ability when Caean needs to communicate with someone and has to rely on the mental communication with Zanoah to convey their ideas.

My only critique is that the writing made it hard for me to maintain interest in the story for long stretches of time. There is over-explanation in the narration, along with quite a few grammar errors/odd phrases. Some examples are: “A big pot held up by chains bolted into the ceiling, keeping it hanging over the fireplace, which was still simmering.” And “With a warm feeling in his chest, he nuzzled his face in the crook of Caean’s neck and closed his eyes, enjoying to be able to feel the warmth of Caean’s body so close to his own one.” There are also several places with jarring changes in tone from formal to almost rude.

Overall, this was an ambitious, sweeping tale of found family and new love. It’s built around Zanoah’s journey of self-acceptance and has far reaching implications for the world he inhabits. If you’re looking for a story that has an immersive world and sweet characters who discover their inner strength while finding their place in the world, keep an open mind about narrative voice and I think you’ll enjoy this story.