“It was a winter they would tell tales about.”
Mila and her siblings live alone in the forest after her father has left them five years ago – right when the winter came and never left again. Then one night a fur-clad stranger comes to their door, asking for shelter for himself and his men. The next morning, Mila’s brother, Oskar, has left. Mila is convinced he’s been taken, and sets out to save him.
I finished this book during a very, very cold weekend, because I had especially saved it for such weather. A book that starts with “It was a winter they would tell tales about” simply must be read when it’s freezing. This is such a nice tale for a cold winter night.
The first thing I noticed and fell in love with was the writing in this book. Kiran Millwood Hargrave really has an eye for how to use words just to that you really feel the cold, and feel the characters’ fears. She really writes brilliantly, conjuring up this world of ice and snow, and where these characters live. A good writer makes you forget you’re reading a book instead of standing on the sleigh with Mila and Pipa, and Millwood Hargrave is like that. I was completely absorbed in the story, imagining myself with these characters on their adventure and almost feeling the snow in my boots.
I really liked these characters. They’re complex and flawed and brave, but also all have their own unique voice. I especially like the interactions between them, and how they handle the hurt of thinking their family members have left them. You cannot blame Sanna for hurting and not believing the same thing as her younger sisters.
What surprised me most of that it’s not just a great tale of an exciting adventure and courage and bravery – it also shows pretty complex human emotions. Like the trauma of abandonment can bring so you expect everyone to abandon you, how sometimes you need to go your own way even though everyone you love stays behind, how grief can blind you to the consequences of your decisions. It’s such an emotionally strong tale full of the sense of being human.
But also the magical elements were really, really cool. I really liked this idea of the Bear and how it’s the protector of the forest, and Rune’s magic and the colorful sea currents. I won’t say too much about them as they’re all later in the book, but it’s all pretty cool.
The only thing of criticism I could find was some strange details, like how is there cabbage when it’s been winter constantly? How did they even survive? How do they grow grain for the flower they bake bread with. Maybe they imported it all, but that seems way too expensive for this kind of world. But then again, this is such an unimportant detail it doesn’t really matter.
A wonderful tale of bravery and human feelings, exciting adventure and really cool magic.