Sunday, November 6, 2022

REVIEW: The Girl Who Kept Winter (book) by Giao Chi

The Girl Who Kept Winter is a Vietnamese martial arts story with fantasy, comedy, and romance. I bought my copy brand new.


Luu Dong Tu is the eldest daughter of the Luu family, which runs a well-respected dojo. She's a skilled martial artist in her own right, but unfortunately she's engaged to marry Vinh Phuc, the magistrate's spoiled son. Shortly before their wedding, Dong Tu and several other martial artists from the Luu family were sent to guard a delivery being made in a neighboring district. Something horrible happened during that mission, and although Dong Tu eventually made it back to her own wedding, she died of poison before it could take place.

Dong Tu had been poisoned by an encounter with Obsidian, one of the Monstrous Eighteen. With some assistance, she was able to resist his poison long enough to make it back to her wedding and ensure her family wasn't accused of going back on its word, but the poison that infuses Obsidian's entire body has no cure. Which doesn't stop him from seemingly raising Dong Tu from the dead.

And so begins this story of deadly poisons, martial arts battles, long-lost brothers, people with weird powers, jealous women, ridiculous matchmakers, and that one guy who thinks he's all that.

This was an impulse purchase inspired by my "ooh pretty" response to the cover, which Facebook algorithms kept throwing in my face. Apparently this book began as a blog post that was later expanded, and, judging by the credits section at the end, it sounds like a team of devoted English-speaking fans helped the author get it translated into English.

I don't know if it was the translation or the original writing, but the storytelling came across as bland and a bit childish. The overall balance was off, too. The romance, which I thought would be a significant part of the story, was overshadowed by everything else. Obsidian and Dong Tu barely spent any time together after the initial accidental poisoning, and their "romance" generally read like two pre-teens wondering if holding hands with someone once means you're a couple.

Hopefully Anole and Switch were supposed to be comedic relief characters, because that's how they came across. They spent most of the book lurking at the edges of any scene that might have Obsidian and Dong Tu in it, so they could tease Obsidian and act, I'm guessing, as reader stand-ins squealing over their OTP.

The storyline involving Bach Duong, his search for his long-lost brother Phong, and Obsidian's tragic backstory was stronger than any of the attempted romance between Dong Tu and Obsidian. And even those "stronger" bits had me thinking that I'd probably have preferred watching a TV adaptation of this series over reading the book. Maybe the humor, excitement, and romance would all have come across better with actors' charisma behind them.

A warning to romance fans: this doesn't end on a happy note. But it does leave room for a sequel, which has been written and published. I doubt I'll be reading it, though - I just didn't get into the characters and their world enough.

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