Sarah Prineas, author of the Magic Thief series, launches a new middle grade fantasy series with Winterling. Jennifer, or Fer, lives with her tremendously protective grandmother, Grand-Jane, in a small town. Fer is not ordinary, however. She can't stand technology (like being on a bus), has uncontrollable hair, and craves the outdoors. One day, Fer's touching of a small, round pool in the woods opens up a portal to another world. A boy comes through, and Fer learns that her long-lost mother came from that other world, and that her father entered it when Fer was a baby, and never returned. In an attempt to learn what happened to her parents, Fer passes through the portal to that other world. There, she encounters a witch disguised as the Lady of the land, and eventually finds herself striving to save both worlds.
Winterling carries echoes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as a child travels through a portal to a wintry world ruled by a treacherous witch. But it's also of that prolific fantasy sub-genre in which a child learns, at around the age of 10-12, that he or she is secretly important in some magical way (Harry Potter, The Emerald Atlas, Magyk, and many others). Personally, I'm a little tired of this device (is every child the one-and-only?), but I think that it must speak to some deep-rooted fantasy on the part of children (like the fantasy of having really been born to someone famous, and only loaned out to one's current parents). And I do get that it's a necessary device for certain epic fantasy novels.
Winterling also employs that children's fantasy trope of orphaned child wondering about the fate of lost parents (also inevitable, since we normally need to get rid of the parents before the child can go on a great quest). Sarah Prineas has a PhD in English literature, and recently taught honors seminars on fantasy and science fiction literature, and I think that her deep appreciation for the fantasy genre comes across in her homage to the traditional fantasy themes.
Winterling is well-written and enjoyable. Fer is quirky and likeable, with a strong desire to help others, and an innate shrinking away from harming any creature (right down to her being a vegetarian). This, naturally enough, helps her to succeed. She is quite consistent as a character. Prineas has Fer well-fixed in her mind. There's also a boy, Rook, who is in an impossible position, but does become her friend. I suspect that he's going to really come into his own in future books, but I kind of like that he is borderline hostile and downright irritable in this one.
Here are a couple of quotes to give you a feel for Prineas' writing, which I would call lyrical without going overboard:
"Winter had ended. Fer could feel spring coming in the smell of rich dirt, in the cold, knobbled nubs at the tips of tree twigs. Soon the oak trees would have mouse-ear-sized leaves budding out, and the bees would be stirring. Spring tingled just under her skin, waiting to burst out. (Page 3, ARC)
"Stepping lightly, Fer walked around the pool. It was perfectly round, and springy moss grew right up to its edge. She stilled her breath, listening. Something in the air felt strange. Tingly, or twitchy, like a rope stretched too far and about to break. She knew what Grand-Jane would say, in her scoldingest voice: Come home right now, Jennifer! It's not safe! Fer felt in her pocket for the spell-bag of herbs and gripped it, the seam in the fabric rough under her fingers." (Page 8-9, ARC).
I must admit that I personally didn't love Winterling as much as I loved The Magic Thief. Winterling is a bit more traditional, and hence, to my mind, a bit less inventive. But I think that people who enjoy traditional fantasy (like the C.S. Lewis books) will welcome this addition to the canon. Fans of Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs will also want to give this one a look. Recommended for anyone looking to visit a new world (and one with the promise of additional books), ages ten and up.
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final printed book.
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).