I can be a bit impatient and sometimes that leads me to downloading books on an electronic device. There are one or two consequences to that, one being that you can’t then share the book you’ve just read with children at school. It also means you haven’t had to go into a bookshop and surround yourself with books to browse and feel. Finally, it also means that you will miss out on how a book looks and let me tell you, this is a beautiful book. There’s a clear nod and a wink to winter in the illustration drawn in snowy white on a background of deep forest green: the colour of leaves and trees and spring.
It’s great holding a hard-backed book. There’s something reassuring and traditional about it. Something just feels right when you pick it up. There’s a page marker in golden ribbon which, well, marks pages. However it slowly gets left behind and forgotten because if you’re like me, you’ll get carried away with the story.
There are some strong themes in the book of family and love, loss and hope, friendship and sacrifice. Although the book is set in a perpetual icy winter, the exploration of those ideas leaves you feeling a great warmth from the relationships of the main characters in the story.
It is a story of contrasts: winter and spring, cold and warmth, light and dark. The story begins with darkness where we learn of the hardship and loss experienced by the family of children. We learn of the loss of their parents and then this is compounded by the loss of their brother. Was he taken or has be fled in pursuit of treasure with the dark and mysterious strangers who passed by their home? Mila, his sister, (a great force for light and hope) refuses to accept that her brother Oskar, would leave them, so accompanied by one of her sisters and the mage (the wise boy from the next village blessed with insight and magic), she begins the quest to search and bring him home.
It is beautifully written. There are wonderfully intricate details of the cold, icy environment that bring the book alive. The characters are well rounded and as a reader you feel empathy and warmth towards them from the beginning. The action is fast paced and the book skips along like a sled over crisp, icy snow. Without spoiling anything, the ending is full of drama and sharp twists that I hadn’t guessed at (usually I’m quite good at that , even if I do say so myself), and made me do some re-reading just to make sure things were happening that I thought were happening. Unpredictability – kept me on my toes! There is a wholesome warmth and bitter-sweetness at the end of the book where there is reunion, great feasting and candied plums which makes you feel good. And in a world that feels more winter than spring at the moment, what more can you ask of a book?
Reviewed by Mr Garley