Heart of Winterland, a story ostensibly following the lives of four fantasy women in their fantasy world. I say ostensibly because I can’t figure out who main four are intended to be, since everyone who’s not a bit part gets their very own flashbacks. So I can figure out who the main two are, but the other two are just my best guess.
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.