Book review: The Snow Laundry, Mette Jakobsen

A dystopia that blends the familiar with the strange.

The Snow Laundry (The Towers, Book #1), by Mette Jakobsen, is set in a near future, not long after the overthrow of a government.

There are recognisable places that give the novel a familiar but uncomfortable, unrecognisable tone. While some, like a Hilton Hotel and Sydney’s Central Station, are familiar and drawn from today’s world, the societal structure is different enough from our own that readers will know they’re in a dystopian world. 

It’s this overlaying of the familiar with a vastly different societal structure that makes the novel, at times, an uncomfortable read. This may indeed be the author’s intention, but the novel does reward persistence.

The Snow Laundry raises questions about how lower classes are treated and how the ideology, connections and privilege of the wealthy and powerful help maintain power structures – even when governments and those in power are overturned. 

In this way, the text has echoes of the French Revolution (among others) and The Hunger Games, where regimes are changed through uprising, rebellion and war, but nothing changes for those in the lower classes, those without power to begin with. Regardless of who is in power, they are forced into menial labour and have few rights, privileges and access to change.

The story focuses on main character Ally (no last name), who works in the laundry on one floor of a Hilton Hotel, which is now part of the Administration. It’s not long since charismatic leader Elenore Maslin overthrew the previous government, and ‘rats’ – young homeless people, including Ally and her boyfriend Bon, who lived in tunnels underground – were brought from their hellish lives to work for the new Administration. In a way they were rescued, but they also became the workhorses and pawns in a new power structure – fed, clothed and housed, but still unable to control their own destinies.

Now there are new rumblings, and more change is afoot, which could see Ally and Bon either liberated or dead.

Ally has very little agency throughout much of the novel, which became frustrating at times. However, that accurately reflects her position in this society. When she finally takes control of a situation after Bon goes missing, it’s a relief to see her act and take charge.

The threats she and Bon face are made flesh and blood in the character Teeth, a police officer from the previous regime, who turns up at the laundry, somehow part of the controlling elite once again. He is entwined with Ally and Bon through the past and provides a focal point for the dangers they face throughout the novel.

Jakobsen has created an intricately entangled world of power, politics and consequence. The flashbacks into the weeks and months before the Maslin uprising are at times confusing, as the flashbacks themselves are not entirely linear; however, the threads of the novel come together in the end. What happened before, what led to the situation Ally finds herself in, and her current choices are all intertwined. Ally’s actions and experiences before the uprising have a direct impact on her now and into the future. This is part of what makes the novel powerful, compelling and rewarding for those who persist through some slightly confusing passages.

The Snow Laundry builds a complex world through flashbacks, action and chaotic moments where Ally and her friends simply have to respond and act in order to survive. The tension is built out of fear and a very real sense of risk, although the reader is, for a while, unclear about the source of that risk and fear. This occasionally distanced me from the characters, and I found I wasn’t as invested in them at the start.

However, the tension rises to a significant climax and conflict, a moment that seemed destined to happen. I became heavily invested in Ally, Bon and their friends, anxious to find out what happens to them next and how they will survive – if at all.

Read: Book review: Moon Sugar, Angela Meyer

This is the first in a series, with a second novel already planned. Key questions still unresolved will hopefully be answered in the second novel, including why moths keep appearing on drawings and other items in this strange, fearful world.

The Snow Laundry is mysterious, deftly plotted and ripe with intrigue, fear and the risks of love. Ally may be a pawn, a teenager, and at the mercy of powerful men and women, but she is also brave and dedicated to her friends. The love she has for them – and they for her – are at the heart of this book, and the reason she is able to do what needs to be done.

The Snow Laundry by Mette Jakobsen
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9781460714904
Pages: 304pp
Publication date: Date: 6 July 2022
RRP: $19.99

Vicki Renner writes across genres and audiences, from YA historical fiction to social media posts in numerous part-time roles. When she's not writing she's fundraising for conservation projects.