Winter Rose

So you may have gathered from the pace of this blog that I’m a procrastinator. Not because I don’t like doing things, but because I never feel they’re good enough, and so never feel that anything is finished enough for public viewing. Thus why it took me two weeks to write and publish my last (aka: first) blog post. Ultimately, my only motivation was the prospect of a second post. And we all know (because we are smart, educated readers) that there can only be a second if there has already been a first.

I finished Winter’s Rose the day before I posted my review of Diana Wynne Jones. It’s not the sort of thing I usually read—I picked it up because I had momentarily combined Robin McKinley and Patricia Briggs/Wrede into a single person. (Patricia McKillip is not, in fact, either Robin McKinley or Patricia Briggs or Patricia Wrede.) So this post may be deviant in style/theme from future posts, we shall see. Besides, I like deviance (that’s why I read spec fic).

Winter Rose

by Patricia McKillip

I haven’t read anything else by Patricia McKillip, though she seems to be a large-ish name in fantasy literature. (Let me know if you’ve read anything by her and what you thought of it.) She’s a World Fantasy Award winner, a Locus Award winner, and a Mythopoeic Award winner.

I’m not the kind of reader who randomly picks up books at the library or the book store [em dash] I like to have some sort of recommendation before I start a book. But I did pick this one up (partly because of the above mentioned author chimerism). So this story ended up being rather different from what I usually read.

I expected a retold fairy tale (I predicted “Snow White and Rose Red”), and in that way I wasn’t disappointed (it was actually “Tam Lin”). But the style was very different from what I had expected.

It was told in the first persona point of view that I am prone to disapprove ofand it did many of the things that I dislike first person narratives doing, such as noticing minute details and recalling memories with exact precision. But somehow I think it worked for the story it was telling. (And it certainly helped that it wasn’t present tense first person.) Winter Rose felt very ephemerala quality that was helped along my the narrator/protagonist’s uncanny aura.

But, I’m not a huge fan of surreal styles. This is why I tend to stay away from magic realism: Though I appreciate it as being quite an interesting genre, it’s not my choice for pleasure reading. So overall, I think it worked for this story, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.

In terms of other aspects, I thought the characters were all very strong, with reasonable character flaws. I also appreciated that the narrator/protagonist was a bit of a tom boy, especially when contrasted with her rather femmy sister. (This isn’t to say that the book isn’t rather heteronormative, because it is.)

I also enjoyed that the writing and plot were styled such that I (as a reader) couldn’t assume that everything would turn out okay. I spend a lot of time reading YA, and (for the most part) you can always assume that there will be a (mostly) happy ending. But Winter Rose doesn’t give its readers that assurance; it is completely happy ending with a depressing, unsatisfying endingor notdepending on how the plot plays out.

If you do end up picking up Winter Rose, I recommend waiting until the dead of winter. It does a very good job of conveying the starkness and emptiness of bleak, white winters. And to go from reading that to prancing around in summer sunlight is a bit weird on the mental senses.

Overall, I’d say that Winter Rose is an excellent short novel (a little over 250 pages) that plays well with reinterpreting folk tales and building emotional resonance. If you like a touch of the surreal in your dark fantasy love stories, then this is for you.

More Like This

Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Secret Country Trilogy by Pamela Dean

Snow White, Blood Red by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed. (Anthology)

The Time Quartet (A Wrinkle in Time, etc.) by Madeleine L’Engle

Coming Up Next

A Game of Thrones (episode 1)

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~ by Riley on 19 April 2011.

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