★★★★ In ‘Snow City’ by G. A. Kathryns, a socially isolated musician named Echo Japonica learns that the perfect, illusory world in which she lives—a world summoned literally from her own dreams—might also be harboring a few key imperfections, which soon threaten to send the whole thing tumbling down. Charity Monthage is a young student who recently died in a car accident and by any rights should not be walking around in the rain, but here she is nonetheless. Echo takes an interest in Charity and provides her with a home when she learns that Charity’s parents have disowned her, claiming her to be a demon. But rather than being allowed to live in peace, Echo and Charity find themselves brought into a notorious mafia figure’s sphere of influence, though he keeps his motivations for involving himself in their lives a secret—for a while, at least. And, while the two women—one living, one dead—seek only to put the past behind them, there are forces at play which will not rest until Charity lies buried in her grave once more.
Crafty and inventive, Kathryns tells an unconventionally powerful story here. ‘Snow City’ relies on the emotional ties between its characters, rather than an overblown plot, to carry the book—and it certainly works. The relationship between Echo and Charity is an intriguing one, highlighting both characters’ strengths, and allowing them to begin shoring up their weaknesses; it proves that imperfect people often form the tightest bonds with each other. At the same time, though, this attention to character leaves the reader adrift when it comes to other elements of the novel, like the actual nature of Snow City—is it a dream? A delusion?—and the lives of its inhabitants, beyond the chief few followed in this tale. It is undoubtedly the hallmark of a good story to lead the reader to ask these sorts of questions, but this desire for answers goes somewhat unassuaged in the end. For example, Echo briefly mentions that her previous life ended in a complete collapse of the global economy, but we never learn much else beyond that. So, too, does she describe how she came to exist in Snow City, stepping into someone else’s existence, though we do not discover whose life she interrupted, or whose body she now inhabits. While certain questions go unanswered, ‘Snow City’ is weighty enough to stand on its own, and it illuminates human themes like family and mortality with unusual delicacy and compassion.