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Heart of the Winterland Paperback – June 2, 2016
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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Anyway, Heart of Winterland is really two stories. The first is the story of Princess Calisandra and her light orb guardian “Voice”, as, after two hundred years of sitting down, she makes her way out of the frozen Kingdom of Trebor to adventure out into the world and experience… something, she never really says what she’s hoping for. The other half of the book is the history of Trebor told by the present-day characters in story form, given out at incredibly random intervals.
The history lessons we’re given are by far the strongest points in the book. While unoriginal, they are enjoyable with fun fairy-tale-esque ideas that move along quickly while retaining cute little details that give the world flavour. However, the actual storytelling is somewhat lacklustre, for the most part reading like a dry Wikipedia page.
Moving on to the books present-day, it at least doesn’t read like a Wiki page, unfortunately, I wouldn’t say that’s an improvement, as the reader is flung into a tell-don’t-show style of narrative that at best baffles the reader and at worst throws them out the world altogether. I’ll give a quick example, near the beginning Princess Calisandra meets another main character, Angel (yes, Angel), and after spending an evening at an inn she finds out Angel is being perused by the (King? I don’t know, they call him Baron but he seems to be in charge) Bludgaurd. Calisandra is assured Bludgaurd is “malevolent”. Sure, perfectly normal way to describe someone, but moving on, can we have an example of this malevolence? No, we’re just supposed to be like ‘Sure, he’s obviously evil – the fugitive said so’. Calisandra, assured of the Baron’s malevolence, promises Angel they will continue to travel together because they’re friends. I’m sorry, what? You’re friends? You’ve exchanged maybe half a sentence each, how could you possibly be friends? Except because the narrative needs you to be.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of book where narratives only appear when it’s convenient. Need to make some new friends? Someone breaks a leg, seems we’re stuck here for a while. Need the Baron’s hunt to close in on your tail? Some frightened peasants saw you pass by. Need the baron’s men to lose you for a bit? The peasants are too steadfast to tell his men anything.
There’s even a literal red shirt for crying out loud, red hair, red dress, with just enough dialogue to cement the certainty that she’s going to die.
You know what though, it’s a shame because the world was full of ingredients for some classic fairy tale fun. A castle plunged into endless winter, an evil witch spurned by her lover, a princess without parents trying to find what it means to be royalty, a mysterious war, magic, old men guarding ancient books. Who doesn’t love all these things?
But at the end of the day, Heart of Winterland is supposed to be New Adult Fiction, not Middle Grade, or even YA fiction, and the fact of the matter is, no matter what other merits of the book the writing is simply too juvenile for NA fiction. From the insta-friendships to the patronising explanations of characters who fall into the ‘grey area’ on the moral compass. If the book is really for adults why do we need the idea of someone not being all good or all evil explained? I felt no connection to any of the characters or any of the events because they’re all about as complex as peeling a banana.
This was a long book, not excruciatingly long—especially not for a fantasy novel—but it was definitely a lengthy read for me. That isn’t necessarily a complaint but more of a warning to other readers who might be looking for something quick to get through.
Heart of the Winterland is a fairly new novel but it reads like an old school fairytale and that’s one of its strengths. I liked the way the story flowed and thought the style of narration fit the plot very well. The story started out with ‘Once upon a time…’ I can’t even say when’s the last time I read a book with that as the first line. Considering this, I felt like the novel was more of a fairytale or even folktale than a fantasy novel but that’s subjective. Even though I felt the style of narration was a strength to the story, I must admit I got tired of the word flow after a little while. Fairytales are typically short so you don’t read that style of writing for very long but this stretched on for hundreds of pages so I found myself stepping away from this book every few chapters.
Besides that, Kooistra put together a pretty interesting read. The characters are sweet and definitely unique. Voice is one I enjoyed very much, partly because it’s just floating ball of light with some depths of personality. The females in this book are all written with a purpose. They’re strong but they still have their weaknesses and Kooistra wasn’t afraid to show that throughout the story.
Cali is the protagonist here but she comes across as very dimwitted—though most would kindly describe her as naïve. Cali was likeable, a typical good girl protagonist with just the right number of negative traits to make her seem more relatable. I liked her but I thought the rest of the cast took most of my attention. Even the antagonists were cool, they were evil—as evil as a fairytale baddy could be—but they were cool and had layers of personality beyond your run-of-the-mill villain.
I think one of the most notable aspects of this book was the throwback to good old spell casting and mystifying powers. Maybe I’m a sucker for ice and all things snow related but Cali is a 200-year-old princess for God’s sake, if that wasn’t a clue as to how the story would flow then I don’t know what is.
Overall, I found this book to be enjoyable. I wasn’t a huge fan of the narration so I’m not sure if I will continue the series but I would definitely recommend it to any reader who likes fantasy, fairytales, and books with strong female leads.
Most recent customer reviews
This book is a phenomenal read. The characters are interesting and the story is intriguing.Read more