Hands Held in the Snow
Aspiring priest Beatrice dreams of saving the world. Delinquent debutante Emi dreads her looming engagement to a distant noblewoman. A chance meeting in a library ignites a flame of love in their hearts. But, as the pair explore the wintery city of Balarand and each other, they must contend with their relationship’s uncertain future. Only by walking together hand-in-hand can they face these obstacles for the sake of their futures.
Hands Held in the Snow is an LGBT+ fantasy romance about a bookworm and a brat at the cusp of adulthood. Read all 70 chapters today.
Featuring artwork by Mikayla Buan. https://twitter.com/mikayla_buan
You can also read Hands Held in the Snow on its official website: http://handsheld.quinlancircle.com/
And follow Hands Held on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hands_held
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I promised to come back and review this story when I finished it and when I was sober. But having finished the story, I can only fulfill half of that promise, for reasons that will become obvious when you, dear reader of reviews, finish the story. Which you should. It’s great. If a quick go-ahead is what you’re looking for, by all means, go ahead. One of the best romance stories I’ve read in recent memory. Go on, get to reading. Click on chapter 1. It’s right up there. Shoo.
Are they gone?
We have two-hundred words to fill, so let me wax poetic for a bit. I loathe and love romance as a genre in equal measure. Romance stories generally make me happy. They’re something of a guilty pleasure. They’re more often than not designed that way. But it is the cynical formula of romance that I loathe. And it is a formula. In the first act, two characters of varying genders, orientations, and preferences are drawn together by either the whims of fate or their own machinations. They fall for each other. In the second act, often pointless and trite challenges arise, causing turbulence and eventually breaking our two lead characters apart. And then, in the saccharine third act, they come back together, previous problems discarded, and love conquers all.
This story does not follow that formula.
Which frankly, surprised me. It’s ballsy and unconventional. It’s also delightfully deceptive. The characters are completely infatuated with each other within the first third of the story. Which was strange, as, in my mind, it didn’t leave many places for the story to go. I was honestly expecting fifty chapters of fluff.
I did not get fifty chapters of fluff.
The problem was with my perspective. It’s romance. Generally you go in expecting characters little more than functional archetypes that can be boiled down to a single word. Smart. Mouthy. Bookworm. Aggressive. But TheDude doesn’t write archetypes. He writes characters—fully fleshed out individuals that can easily pass as actual people. They have lives, and outside pressures, and family influences, and responsibilities, and dreams.
It’s so easy, for the protagonists of an average romance to simply throw everything away, not caring what they have to sacrifice. Because at the end of the day, those protagonists have no agency. They were always going to follow the formula, as that’s what romance as a genre so often is.
This is not that story.
This is better.
What a great story, man. Damn. I was not prepared.
Oh, right, I was supposed to be doing this by category. We’ll call the word hemorrhage above the Story/Character section.
Style is fantastic. It's pleasant and whimsical. I was a bit concerned from the prologue that it would be told in a semi-omniscient POV--which, if you can pull off, more power to you--but the author immediately swapped to a well handled third person limited as soon as the story began in earnest. The language is carefully chosen (seriously, what website am I on all of a sudden) to paint beautiful pictures of cities and landscapes. And people.
No issues with the grammar. Barely noticed it, which means it’s functioning correctly, some minor quibbles with dialogue early on, but that’s more likely a preference issue than an objective one.
In short: It’s a great story, it’s unconventional, and it’s absolutely going on my yearly reread list. Thank you, author, for taking me on that journey. If you have time to point me to another story of yours to read next, I’m all ears.
Dedicated romance is a genre which, through no fault of its own, typically struggles to engage me. So I was aware going into this story that I probably wasn't part of the target audience, and should disclose I haven't read many others in a similar vein against which to compare.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Right off the bat, Hands Held in the Snow establishes itself as being about more than just the developing relationship between its two leads. We're introduced to a beautiful fantasy world rich in history and culture, which we see fleshed out in the details of each scene. The city where the story takes place has fallen under enemy occupation, and this tenuous political climate is treated with astute nuance and care.
This is very much in keeping with what to expect from the story as a whole. It would have been easy to take this concept and build it from thin generalisations. Instead, every detail from the romance itself to the plot and setting is handled with admirable maturity. Characters act and react for understandable reasons, communicate well, and convey relatable complexity.
And the characters are the stars of this story. Beatrice, a junior priest in training, navigates her studies, family life and religious rituals. Emi, the sheltered daughter of aristocrats, chafes against her restrictive lifestyle while acknowledging the benefits of its privilege. They make a captivating and competent couple. Half the charm comes from their story being told from alternating perspectives, allowing us to secure contrasting windows into each of their lives, hopes and tribulations.
This thoughtful treatment extends to the diverse minor characters, who are also each charming and memorable in their own right. Nor is romantic love the be-all and end-all; relationships between family, friendships and mentors are treated with as much importance and affection.
Between that and the fantastic world-building, I think that's what made this romance engage me when so many others fail. It doesn't exist in a bubble - it impacts and is impacted by the world around it, and feels so much more meaningful as a result. It matters. Characters and world-building = perfect.
The other area the story excels in is its style. The tone is simple, descriptive, clear and easy to read. Dashes of humour pepper the prose every now and then, adding to the charm. The only criticism I have here is the way the story's narrator, an as-yet-unidentified grandmother in some future time, can interject asides unexpectedly into the narrative. I actually love the concept of this and her often snarky quips, but the execution can be a touch jarring. As a reader, I had to pause and take a moment to figure out whose perspective it was coming from - it wasn't always immediately clear - and this would pull me out of the flow of the story. But I think it could be a straightforward fix: more distinct separation for different perspectives in the formatting, for instance.
The grammar is likewise very good but feels like it needs one final proofread to fix up some lingering mistakes. Most are minor but I did spot a couple of occasions where they changed or confused the meaning of a sentence. Well above average, however, and they're very much just typos rather than indicative of any inherent issues.
The story's weakest aspect for me was its pacing. The beginning and closing thirds of the story move the plot along at a good pace, but it felt like the central segment slowed down a little without much progression, delving a tad more heavily into a slice of life focus. Thankfully, the rich character interactions carry the slack until the pace picks up again, so I found myself able to stay engaged throughout. And I should note (minus spoilers) I've been thoroughly enjoying the later chapters in particular.
So as a reader who doesn't tend to mix well with the romance genre, I can safely say I'm a convert to Hands Held in the Snow. Which is quite a feat. Read it for a mature, nuanced, uplifting and heartwarming take on life and love with an engrossing fantasy spin. Or read it for some wonderful world-building rich in seamlessly interwoven lore. And dare I encourage you to give it a try even if romance isn't your thing - you may just be in for a surprise.
Important information: The viewpoint switches between the two main characters, Emi and Beatrice. If you don't find that out right off the bat, you can get really confused for several chapters.
Art isn't every chapter, but there's been more than one piece, and so far they've had consistant quality. If you like the one from the first chapter, you'll probably like the girls in the future chapters.
Anyway, clerics only get 3/4 base attack bonus, whereas nobles get a full 1/level, and since Beatrice has yet to become a full priestess that implies she isn't even level 2 yet. 3/4 rounds down to 0 at level one, so Emi has the clear advantage.
I should start by saying that I don’t ordinarily read romance or slice of life stories, but I’ve been meaning to branch out so that I can become a better romance writer myself. Still, I realize I might not be the target audience so I’ll make an effort to be as objective as possible!
Overall, the style is solid. Slightly humorous, with lots of personality. I was able to clearly visualize every scene and I was rarely ever confused. The amount of metaphors and evocative imagery here is far above average for a webnovel, which was a plus for me.
The descriptions are great, too. I think a lot of authors on this site take for granted that we know what certain things look like. For example, a city street. The problem is, there are a thousand different kinds of cities and time periods. Here’s a snippet from this book that really narrows down what sort of city we're in:
"No house was identical to the next; each had the creative flair of the architect who designed it. The houses had gates, had yards of grass and cobblestone walkways. Their roofs were pointed high, the larger among them giving off the look of miniature castles, of barracks for an army of luxury. Several of Emi’s neighbors even had tiny ponds in their yards, with fountains in the center keeping the water fresh and flowing."
This immediately feels European, but far more modern than medieval. Horses and carriages are also mentioned in another paragraph so we know that we don’t quite have cars yet.
Like I said, the descriptions are great. Even some of my favorite novels on here are too light in this department. Readers will still imagine something either way, but if we’re not on the same page as the author, that can lead to surprises later on. I know lots of poetic language and descriptions aren’t always popular in the webnovel world, but all it takes is a few sentences to make a world of difference.
The story starts out in a first-person omniscient style, like a storybook or a framed narrative (think: Princes Bride) where it’s clear we have one character (the grandmother) telling this story to her grandchildren.
My only issue here is that it’s not always consistent. There are some points in the story where the narrator injects her first-person comments or speaks directly to the reader. There are other times where we’re deep in one of the two POV character’s heads, experiencing the world exclusively through her eyes in a third-person limited perspective. Sometimes, a comment is made about the world. When that happens, I wonder who’s making the comment, the narrator from the beginning, or the POV character? I can usually figure it out, but that process isn't as effortless as it could be.
I’m not against this omniscient style but I think it could benefit from some more structure. For example, if it were confined to the prologue or interludes. It seemed like the author intended for the first chapter to be the most omniscient—which makes sense to me—however, it’s not 100% consistent.
As usual, things are good here. No obvious problems aside from the occasional typo, which you’ll find in any story that isn’t professionally edited. There were also a few minor errors such as mixing up the words "laid" and "lay", but nothing that distracted from the overall story.
As with style, character is where I found a lot of the book's biggest strengths and weaknesses.
The two main characters feel quirky and realistic, with a lot of their personalities woven into the story’s narrative voice. I especially liked their individual reaction scenes after they meet the second time. These scenes felt especially authentic.
I only have one complaint about the two main characters, and that’s that they seem too similar at times. Sure, they’re very different on paper. Beatrice comes from a modest family, she's studious, tidy, and she’s training to become a priestess. Meanwhile, Emi comes from a rich family with more aloof parents. She has a messy room and she enjoys sneaking out of the house.
Middle-class vs. rich. Studious vs. rebellious. Neat vs. tidy. It seems like a case of opposites attract. But like I said, the differences here are on paper. They’re things that we’re told, but not necessarily shown in the way they act.
While Emi is rich and upper-class, she’s extremely down to earth and somewhat street-smart (paying the neighbor kids to create a distraction while she sneaks back into her room.) While she can be slightly rebellious, she studies Economics in the library on her own, so she doesn't seem like a genuinely bad student. While Beatrice says she wants to spread joy to everyone, she's also easily annoyed with her fellow students. In other words, their most extreme qualities are easily balanced, making them feel more alike.
The POV switches between the characters every other chapter and their narrative voices often feel very similar as well. From the moment they meet, they’re both infatuated with each other. When they meet the second time, they’re both eager to spend time together, but neither one wants to make the first move.
They’re both quirky, nerdy, easily embarrassed, feminine, and seemingly introverted.
I bring this up because there was one point where I started reading from one character’s POV, and I couldn’t tell which one it was until I got some hint from the environment. (It had been a few days since I'd read the last chapter, and I'd forgotten their names.) So to the author, ask yourself this: if you were to write a chapter with one of the characters walking down the street (without using her name) how long would it take the readers to figure out which character it is?
As a writer, I know how hard it is to make each POV character unique. It’s hard enough when the characters are different genders or ages. Even harder in this case, when they’re both teenage girls. That’s why I think it’s all the more important to show the contrast between them. This contrast won't just make the characters feel more unique, it will open the door for more conflict later on.
Aside from the two mains, most of the other characters seem more one-dimensional so far. Beatrice even refers to her father as a stereotypical scholar. Emi’s friend, Tia, also feels like a stereotype at this point. Now, we’re still in the setup stages of the story (Chapter 10, as of this review) so there’s still time for these characters to surprise us and break free form their molds. Setting up characters who seem stereotypical and then surprising readers later is a viable strategy, so I won't be too harsh here.
There isn’t much to the plot so far besides the romance aspect. It’s clear that this is a slice of life rather than an epic fantasy, so I can’t fault the author for this. Aside from that, it’s always hard to give a decent plot review when a story is still in the setup stages.
I do see the hints of conflict here with Emi being engaged to a stranger and Beatrice becoming a priest (I’m assuming priests aren’t allowed to marry in this world?) We also get hints of a broader conflict with their city under occupation. Again, we're still in the setup stages. I don't know how long of a story the author is planning, but I would guess we're still in the first 10% right now based on the pacing. Hopefully the continues to develop these conflicts later on!
One tricky thing about world building is making the readers curious—getting them to ask questions. That way, when it’s time for answers, you have their full attention. The author pulls this off exceptionally well, giving us just enough information about the world to make us curious.
For example, this world seems to be fairly well developed technologically, yet they have no contact with the outside world (other continents, as they put it.) This immediately makes me curious what the reasons are. Is it magical in nature? Political? We hear hints about a long distance between continents, but that seems like a minor issue for a world with at least 1800's level technology.
Historically, many Western arranged marriages gave no regard to the children's’ preferences. It’s essentially a “do your job” sort of thing. Western arranged marriages in our world also tend to be focused on producing an heir and furthering bloodlines. I would assume this world has different priorities from heirs/bloodlines, and I’m curious to see what they are.
Hand's Held in the Snow is a lesbian romance novel, set in a loving detailed fantasy world, with a delightfully tense political climate. The characters have unique, thoughtfully crafted personalities, and are generally a charm to watch.
The story itself as of this point has a well written arc, which is beginning to show signs of tension that hint at struggles the blossoming romance may face. I was also delighted to see that the author decided to make the world generally accepting of LGBT characters and struggles introduced do not related to homophobia.
Unfortunately, the otherwise pleasant narrative was dotted with puzzling sentence structures, typos and the occasional misused word, which hampered my enjoyment. However, these problems were relatively infrequent and could be overlooked due to the strength of the narrative and the characters.
Finally, what I felt was one of the stories greatest strengths was also, unfortunately one of its greatest weaknesses. That was the narrative style that the author used. The central conceit of the story is that someone's grandmother is telling the story, and I adore some of the colour commentary it allows the author to add to their narration. However, at times the transition between first person and third person feel awkward and I sometimes am left puzzled as to how the grandmother were know the internal feelings of the characters in any given scene.
Ultimately, Hand's Held in the Snow is a charming tale which promises a potentially bittersweet lesbian romance. It has a well crafted story and character, and absolutely delightful illustrations.And while it is at times hampered by stylistic choices and grammatical errors, I can whole heartedly recommend it despite.
A nice slice of life romance in a city-based high fantasy setting. The story is character-focused and the two mains are adorable. I like how the author is spending time flesh out local politics. It gives supporting cast of adults surprising depth while understandably our teenage main characters are focused on their studies and *cough* romance.
The grammar is sufficient and writing style is concise allowing for fast pace storytelling without getting bogged down in flowery description. Which is a pleasant change for this reviewer as character-based dynamics and events are emphasised.
I look forward to future updates.
The first thing I want to mention is that I absolutely adore the art. The style is so cute and in my opinion, captures the tone of the story well. As an artist, it makes me love this so much more!
The writing style immediately pulled me in. It was witty, had a strong voice and imaginative descriptions that truly made the story sing. I like the frame story of the grandmother narrating it.
The world building was another one of this book's strong points. It's very easy to picture the kind of place everything is happening in, and I like how little interactions with side characters are included in. It fleshes out the world so well. However, sometimes I did feel as though there was a little too much description, but that might just be me.
The main characters themselves were charming and cute. I love that Beatrice is training to be a priest, as that's a profession/line of study I hadn't encountered much in fantasy protagonists before.
All in all, I think this is an adorable slice of life story that's certainly worth reading!
This is the quality queer content I'm here for.
Emi and Beatrice are so cute!! And the fairy-tale voice is delightful. This is beautiful work and I'm so happy I found it.
The artwork adds a lovely touch. The characters are charming. I love their first conversation in the library! It felt very real.
Can't wait to see how it all unfolds!
A deeply charming story that has me eager to read more.
A very strong narrative voice and a good use of structure to create an impact on the reader. For example, the converging of the two POVs to their shared encounter was brilliant and I loved it.
The world is vibrant and the plot is well-articulated and elegant.
A few passing issues here and there, but nothing persistent enough to really substantively gripe.
The central POVs are wonderfully characterized and I find myself looking forward to reading both of them, which is no meager feat.
Keep it going and I look forward to more.
Right, I'll start off by saying I have read a total of 1 romance story thus far... and it is this - so I don't really have a good comparison for the story.
The whole relationship between the two characters is absolutely adorable - like it's so sweet it raises my blood sugar levels to the point I'd give a vampire diabetes.
The dynamic between the two characters is fun to read - nothing ever feels fake and you can almost imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the characters.
The world-building is subtle and kept simple, but it's enough to keep me interested, whenever the focus was shifted to some banquet or some chat about politics I didn't feel like I the story was stalling for time.
The art is awesome, not much to say on this other than I could totally see this becoming a webcomic.
The setting is hard to pin-point time-wise but seeing as that is not the focus of the story I don't mind.
Realistically I can't really find a flaw with this story, I'd give it 5 stars but that's really up to the setting and topic for me, like I said I'm not really a romance kinda' guy.
In any case, if there is one thing you'll get from reading this review then I hope it's that...
Emi would absolutely anihilate Beatrice in a fistfight - it's not even a fair match-up,