Saturday, January 26, 2013

Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep

Touch of Frost, the first installment on Estep's Mythos Academy series, is a fantasy novel for young adults that concerns the misadventures of Gwen Frost, a teenager struggling to fit in at a magical academy. Supposedly, Gwen has been transferred to Mythos Academy because her grandmother wants her to learn how to better control her magical gift and use it for good. Instead, Gwen spends most of her time at school poking into the love lives of more popular students and bemoaning her lack of friends. Even when Gwen looks into the death of "mean girl" Jasmine, who no one seems to miss, the author doesn't bring Gwen's powers to the forefront or give her more than a bumbling role in bringing the mystery to a conclusion.

Estep describes Gwen as "a smart, plucky, slightly snarky heroine," but in fact, the protagonist comes across instead as whiny, self-pitying, and always needing a boy to save her. Gwen describes herself as a "geek," with a 4.0 GPA that she's proud of, yet she doesn't seem to enjoy classes or her job in the school library, so this is a hard idea to swallow. Most of the other characters are even less well fleshed out, and certainly less likeable. Jasmine's best friend and rival, Morgan, is described simply as "slutty," and Gwen's perpetual savior, Logan, seems only interested in two things: fighting his adversaries, and chasing girls. The only character who isn't completely one-dimensional is Daphne, a popular girl who ditches her old friends in favor of Gwen after realizing everything isn't as it seems in her clique.

By the end of the book, Gwen hasn't gained new skills with her magic, or found any self-confidence that would seem to make her future adventures worth reading about. I doubt that many teenagers would relate to this protagonist or enjoy reading about the cardboard cutout cast of characters at Mythos Academy.

The one strong point about Touch of Frost is the way that Estep draws on mythology to create the back-story for Mythos Academy and the students' powers, but she devotes too much time to developing this aspect of the story and not enough to the characters themselves. Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, although for a slightly younger audience, spins a much stronger and more enjoyable modern mythological tale.

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