3 out of 4 stars
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Women of Fire and Snow is a collection of seven short stories and a poem written by Nati del Paso. With a spotlight shone on the atrocities faced by women, especially those of Mexican descent, it unites the consequences of misogynistic violence with the exploration of mystical and supernatural forces. Heavily based on Mexican folklore and superstition, the stories are set mostly in the Snoqualmie region, and each tale can be read on its own.
Illegal Matters kicks off the collection, following an aspiring medical doctor whose father has been detained by ICE. In a desperate bid to keep her family together, she makes a deal with a greasy attorney, falling prey to his manipulations and almost losing herself in the process. The Devil You Know comes next, where Emiliana, an elderly curandera, journeys to Tatiana, her great-granddaughter’s home to help her recuperate after an accident. The two soon uncover the truth behind Tatiana’s new husband. Yessica, in A Safer Place, learns the danger of wishing for something you do not truly want. Honor Your Mother describes two siblings’ hunt for their mother. It is followed by Soul Sacrifice, a story in which Luz discovers the depth of her mother’s love for her and their family. Still Waters is the sixth story, describing how a girl and her two friends used the trans-dimensional portals of the Snoqualmie River to get rid of her predator of a stepfather. Ixchel, in The Cicada’s Song, finds her calling in her quest for justice for her murdered cousin. Iris, a poem, is an appropriate closing to the collection, encapsulating the message of the preceding stories.
Female protagonists dominate the backbone of all the stories. They are mostly of Mexican descent, and they must fight the harsh, evil realities of the world to prevent their victimization and being taken advantage of. The stories don’t always have a happy ending, though this wasn’t an issue, as they end up teaching both readers and the characters something. I liked that Women of Fire and Snow showed the treatment minority groups – or the sex deemed inferior – are subject to. The struggles that immigrants face and how easily they are exploited are also highlighted.
An undercurrent of darkness suffuses the narration. Profane and sexual content are also present. Readers should watch out for triggering material, specifically those featuring femicide, gender-based violence, and rape. This ties in with del Paso’s skill in writing descriptive and vivid scenes. There’s no shying away from the gore and horrors the characters deal with, almost making it seem as if you’re right there with them as they experience each event.
I found The Cicada’s Song to be the most interesting read. In it, Ixchel tries to make the public aware of the coverup of her cousin’s murder by her boyfriend, the nephew of a state persecutor. This story had more supernatural elements than the others, though this was not the only reason I favoured this story. Quotes from different victims head each chapter, almost as though the women were communicating with readers after their deaths. It was slightly morbid, but it added to the eerie, wronged, and vengeful tone of the story.
On a completely random note, I just loved how Emiliana was described in The Devil You Know. I constantly pictured this tiny, harmless-looking bundle of humanity wielding enormous power, which brought a chuckle while reading. I also enjoyed the Spanish phrases and proverbs that made frequent appearances. Some of these were entirely unfamiliar to me, but a quick Google search never hurt anyone. I cannot think of anything I truly disliked about this book.
I concluded that this book has not been professionally edited. This was because I found several errors in the writing. Character names also suffered from this, like the changing of Araceli to Aracely and the mixing up of Tzitzimitl with Tzitzilime. I believe another round of editing is required to improve the book’s writing standard.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. Women of Fire and Snow told tales of how women survived and bounced back from the trauma they underwent, delivered in an engaging and graphically realistic manner. The only drawback had to do with how many errors were found in the book. The mature themes present make this book suitable only for an adult-aged audience or adolescents with parental supervision. Readers who enjoy women’s fiction would also enjoy this book. People who are sensitive to violence against women should perhaps not read this book.
Women of Fire and Snow
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