Winter Rose

I’m finally re-realizing what I should have been following all along: the sooner I write a review after reading a book, the easier and quicker it is. So I read Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose on Saturday and am already writing about it.

I’m trying to be good about reading books from my own shelves, especially since they are bursting at the seams. There is literally not a single square inch of space left on the three bookshelves in my room. I would love to be able to send some books on to their next home, but the problem is that a lot of the ones I don’t feel strongly about keeping are ones I haven’t read yet.

Winter Rose is one such example; it’s an ex-library book I picked up for a quarter years ago because I had read and loved another book by the author (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld). Even though I don’t really read fantasy any more, there are still aspects of the genre that appeal to me.

No one in the village has ever been quite sure what to make of wild girl Rois Melior, who roams the woods barefoot gathering herbs no one else can find. Even her loving father and elder sister Laurel gently humor her. Laurel is staid and domestic, engaged to marry her childhood sweetheart, Perrin. One summer a stranger arrives, Corbet Lynn, planning to rebuild the abandoned family property. The village is abuzz with gossip; years ago Corbet’s father killed his own father and disappeared, but not before the old man cursed him with sorrow and trouble.

Rois sees things, knows things, that no one else can, and isn’t quite sure whether it is her imagination or something deep within her. She feels that not everything with Corbet is as it seems, especially since she saw him born of a beam of light near a hidden well in the woods. Corbet and Laurel seem to grow closer, while Rois is driven to pursue the secrets surrounding him. With the arrival of the worst winter in recent history Corbet disappears, and with him Laurel’s will to live. Their own mother died many years ago, wasting away waiting for spring, and the past seems to be repeating itself. Only Rois’s fey side can save her family as well as Corbet from a fate that has its grasp on them.

Patricia McKillip’s writing is absolutely beautiful. I recall very little about the other book I read, but her prose here is light and lyrical and perfectly suited to the subject. I meant to read only the first chapter to test the book out, and ended up reading the entire thing. I could picture the locations as I read, and feel the changing of the weather. Though some parts seemed a big ambiguous, especially the ending, that seems appropriate for the dreamlike state of the story.

My biggest complaint with the book, trivial though it may seem, is the name Rois. I spent the whole time switching how I pronounced it in my head (the same problem I had with Coraline). Five years of French had me leaning towards “rwa” (to like the plural of “kings”), but based on the context and other names I doubt that’s what the author intended. My next instinct was to make it two syllables, like Lois. Ultimately the title and imagery throughout the story suggested it was a homonym for Rose. I get irrationally annoyed sometimes by unique or cutesy spellings; the profusion of made up words is one of the things that used to bother me when I read fantasy regularly.

I had read online a while ago that Winter Rose is based on the Scottish folktale of Tam Lin. Though not a direct retelling, it does contain elements likely inspired by the legend. Knowing this going in did not spoil the reading in any way for me.

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Published in: on May 14, 2012 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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