The Fires of Winter by Cameron Darrow and Hall Of Mirrors by Cameron Darrow are being reviewed jointly because Hall of Mirrors is the third book in a series and challenging to read it as a stand-alone. You can start with book two, however.
NOTE: Spoilers ahead for Remember, November (book one).
After World War I, the old world is in ruins and a new one is trying to fight its way free from the ashes. Empires have fallen. Technological advancements have made the world smaller. Women who worked while sons, fathers and husbands were at war have tasted new independence. Survivors of the war have witnessed violence, death and political upheaval firsthand.
Even among witches, times are turbulent. Many were killed in the war, and fewer and fewer are born every year. The number of witches who have fully manifested their power, however, is unprecedented. They possess frightening magic, stronger than the world has ever known.
The town of Longstown has grown around the Long Aircraft Concern, an aeroplane manufacturer that employs only women. Near the factory, a mysterious airship hangar houses a secret organization known as EVE. In EVE, witches are kept safe from harm and taught to use their magic. There, three remarkable women attempt to face their haunted pasts and rebuild themselves and their lives.
Victoria Ravenwood, who prizes logic and scientific exploration above all else, struggles with self-loathing. She’s been freed from a mental institution but cannot quite come to grips with what happened there.
Millie Brown, Victoria’s best friend, has finally found happiness with the love of her life, Elise. Her purpose — to protect the other witches in EVE — is part of her magical manifest. Yet she worries she won’t be up to the task, especially with new refugees arriving soon.
Katya Gurevich’s family were members of the bourgeoisie in Russia. After years of strife and civil war, the Bolsheviks murdered her father. She desires only to be left alone. She dresses as if she were an embodiment of winter, all in white with long white hair. It is a silent warning for others to keep their distance.
Katya and three other Russian witches were smuggled into Britain and are newcomers to EVE. They are expected to mesh with the existing coven, Victoria, Millie and Elise. Witches are sisters. Yet their first exhibition of magic leads only to resentment and mistrust. This is supposed to be home, but can such a foreign place, in such chaotic times, ever truly be?
Two months after the tragic events in Fires of Winter, Victoria, Katya and Millie find themselves in a world that is quickly evolving in some ways, yet stubbornly clinging to old ideas and prejudices in others. Universities and businesses still discriminate against and dismiss women. The suffrage movement continues to face significant resistance.
The body known as EVE has revealed to the world that witches and magic exist. They have attained so much prestige that they are asked to attend the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, a testament to their growing influence. But the revelation has also caused fear and suspicion. In remote areas, witches are now being rounded up and killed. For two hundred years, witches had observed a covenant to remain hidden. EVE has broken the rules. Now, their members are being summoned to a great council in order to answer for their actions.
Victoria Ravenwood, growing ever more powerful, is frustrated by the world’s continued limitations. She believes she must force the world to see women as equals. Her curiosity and experiments with magic have led her down increasingly dangerous paths. Her friends and sisters find themselves both fearing her and being afraid for her.
Katya Gurevich continues to struggle with the trauma of the past. It is hard to let anyone into her heart or her bed. She also grapples with the immortality that is a side effect of her magic. Having lost so many in the past, she wonders if she can bear the pain of caring about mortals. She is the face of EVE, the one who handles the press, yet the restraint required is exhausting. Especially when, like Victoria, her power is only continuing to grow.
Millie Brown, ever the large-hearted protector of EVE, worries more and more that her skills aren’t enough. When her lover Elise goes to Paris and she is left behind to teach the apprentices, it makes her feel useless. She wonders if she is capable of the compassion and patience the new students need. The arrival of Pretoria, a young woman whose village turned against her when her powers were discovered, tests her. Pretoria displaces the pain and anger she feels towards her former friends and neighbors onto almost everyone else. She needs a second chance. But first, Millie and the other witches of EVE must earn her trust.
At the council meeting, the future of EVE is at stake. At home, the witches left behind must learn to guide a new generation. Will they be able to weather accusations and prejudices and find a way forward?
There are a lot of characters and it can be a little confusing at first, though you will catch on. I’m going to break them down for you.
The Russian Contingent – a group who initially flees Russia to join of EVE and later becomes one of the two covens within it. This includes:
Katya, a PoV character who used to be part of the bourgeoisie in Russia. She has white hair and her manifest allows her to produce and control fire.
Inga, a large, burly witch whose manifestation of magic makes her very strong and gives her tremendous stamina.
Sveta, a young witch who senses truth from others and can see connections in the things around her.
Alexandra, who is horribly traumatized by what she saw in the war and barely speaks, preferring to be alone.
Current EVE members – a contingent based in the middle of Britain in Longstown. These three young witches have been together and with EVE for quite some time. For them, EVE was where they apprenticed and learned how to use their magic.
Victoria, a PoV character, an often serious woman with a brilliant mind who is able to combine science with the magic of manipulating matter.
Millie, a PoV character whose magic gives her a protective covering called Witchscale. She is the lover and partner of Elise.
Elise, a gentle, thoughtful woman who is able to increase the speed at which the body heals.
There are also older witches who are teachers and mentors to the group: Zoya, Selene, Ivy and Niamh.
By the end of Fires of Winter, the three PoV characters feel like extended family. You understand them, root for them and love them. In the third book, a new character named Pretoria becomes another PoV character. While she isn’t unlikeable, I never fell in love with her in the same way I did with the others.
The Writing Style
I have often compared using words to an artist using colors. I’m revising that. Brilliant artists transform colors, using them in new ways and to express a unique idea.
I’ve written glowing reviews before. Sometimes books leave me with a high of swelling romantic music in my head. When I talk about it, it feels like I am sharing a hot cocoa with someone on a cold day.
For this review, I have a different type of enthusiasm. Some books toss down a gentle challenge to lesbian fantasy and fiction, offering a new standard of excellence. Which is exactly the way I feel about books two and three of the From the Ashes of Victory series. I want to virtually grab every LGBTQ+ person I know and tell them they are missing out if they don’t read them. Reading it will, in some small way, change and influence you. I am not sure if it ever will be regarded as a lesfic classic, but it should be.
Don’t believe me? Here’s one of the many lines that stopped me in my tracks and made me think.
“Hating herself wouldn’t undo what she’d done. Hating herself wouldn’t un-choose the choices she’d made. Hating herself wouldn’t move her forward, it would only anchor her to the past, and force her to re-live it over and over again until she learned her lesson.”
On almost every level, Fires of Winter and Hall of Mirrors excel. The lore, the realism, the characters, the descriptions, the relationships – everything is rich and immersive. I literally cheered, laughed and teared up at different points.
I became a hardcore shipper of Katya and Victoria, who haven’t had any romantic interactions, but they belong together! They’re the world’s most powerful witches and best friends and…oh, come on, Cameron.
How good is the world building? The alternative post–WWI history is wrapped with real events in a completely believable way. The explanation of how magic works and even the politics between witches are detailed and rich. It is so good that I found myself imagining what type of stories I might be able to tell in that world.
Yep, it made me think of possible fanfic.
While the books are only mildly graphic, they do not shy away from exploring the emotional trauma war and intolerance can inflict. This includes suicide, rape, violence and death. The characters are all working through pain. They have all had their old lives torn from them. There are lighthearted moments, but there are also heartbreaking ones. The books are not dark, offering hope no matter what happens. Yet the darkness is there and is both acknowledged and explored.
There is also quite a bit of internal monologue. It is so beautifully written and so grounded in character that it almost never feels boring. Stress on the almost. There were a few times I did skip ahead a bit when a character had been lost in thought for a bit too long.
Lastly, the character Pretoria, who shows up in the third book, never quite won my heart. By the end of the second book, I was so invested in Katya and Victoria (obviously an OTP) that their chapters had me on the edge of my seat. I could read another two books ONLY about them (they could have a lovely wedding in the aircraft hangar that EVE is based in). They have become two of my favorite book characters ever. Millie, and through her, Elise also have my undying friendship and loyalty. Pretoria just feels like she shows up so late in the story. Compared to what the other characters are dealing with, her struggle is much smaller. Often her PoV sections felt like an interruption more than a continuation of the story.
If you love witches, friendships, found family or speculative fiction, this book will not only draw you in but make you a hardcore Cameron Darrow fan. I am chomping at the bit for more after having just read about 1100 pages.
Excerpt from Hall of Mirrors by Cameron Darrow
“You’re not going to be involved, are you?” Millie asked more harshly than she had intended.
“Why?” Elise said, looking slightly hurt.
Millie set down her glass. “You’re already overworked.”
“I like my work. Very much.”
“I know you do, love. But you’re using your Manifest constantly now. Look what happened to Vickie.”
“I know,” Elise said. She swirled the water in her glass. “But mine is different.”
“That well may be, but if we had to reign her in, I can’t bloody well let you go off and hurt yourself the same way, can I?”
Elise sat straight up. “Let me?”
“You know what I mean. The tattoos, the nosebleeds… I couldn’t bear to see something like that happen to you. You’ve saved her from herself twice now; who will save you?” Millie asked, her own fatigue and the vivid image of Elise with Vickie’s injuries making the words quiver in her throat. So much blood…
“Ma chérie…” Elise’s eyes softened, and she moved to sit beside Millie, twining their fingers together. “I did not know you were so worried.” “
Of course I’m—!” Millie blurted before gathering herself again. “Of course I’m worried. And…” she looked away, unable to bring herself to let the thought loose.
Elise pressed against Millie’s cheek, turning her back until their eyes met once more. “And what, my love? Tell me.”
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The Fires Of Winter
Hall Of Mirrors
The Fires of Winter
Hall of Mirrors
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781794658981
- Publisher: Indie Author
- Cameron Darrow Online
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