A Winter’s Promise is Jane Eyre meets Stardust meets The Night Circus.
This book jumped off the shelf and into my arms because of its beautiful cover. The illustration is so detailed and atmospheric that it instantly sets the tone of the book. Dabos’ world is exceptional. The details and lore have been carefully conjured and pieced together with love and attention. The clans and their abilities are fascinating and quickly become the champions of the novel. Readers are left hanging in the final chapters and there are plenty of exciting mysteries still left for the next book to unravel.
‘Dabos’ world is exceptional.’
But while there were many elements of this book that I enjoyed – the fantastical, magical elements – there were a few things that stopped me from falling head over heels in love with it.
While I don’t think it’s always necessary to categorise books into genres or markets, I do think it’s important that the book feel unified. There are some excellent examples of books that straddle the child and young adult divide, (The Endsister by Penni Russon being a wonderful example) but sadly A Winter’s Promise felt like a children’s book wrapped in a young adult plot.
This resulted in a dissonance between some of the inner workings of the book and lessened my enjoyment of the story. The incongruous elements meant that the plot felt jolted and rushed at times, while at others it was repetitive and simplistic. This left me a little unsatisfied as my expectations for the novel weren’t quite met. I was eager for this book to be whole-heartedly YA.
The language felt simplified, as though written with a middle-grade audience in mind. While straightforward or simple language can sometimes be effective, in this novel it felt repetitive and limited, lacking variety and musicality. The lack of variation and the repetition of certain words and phrases meant that rather than adding details and enriching the scene, the character and setting descriptions began to feel monotonous and slowed the pace of the plot. These could have been edited further to inject more spice or could have been trimmed to keep the pace flowing and to shorten the quite lengthy book.
The simplified language also felt incongruous with the young adult themes and plot, with the reader expecting a more sophisticated vocabulary. There was also the expectation that the mysteries would be more nuanced and subtle, however it felt as though each new detail was explained to the reader. This may have been the author underestimating the strength of the story or another sign that it was intended for a younger audience who may require more assistance understanding the clues. This book would have been superb if there were slightly more freedom given to the reader to interpret the hints and form their own suspicions until the final reveal.
‘There was also the expectation that the mysteries would be more nuanced and subtle.’
It is hard to tell if these language issues are faults that are present in the original French edition or if they have been introduced through the translation, whether for a lack of equivalent words or a conscious choice made by the translator or publisher.
While the explanation and comprehension suggest a younger middle-grade audience, the plot and violence may not be appropriate for that reading level. The action is suited to the YA leanings of the book, which created greater unfavourable contrast with the childish qualities.
I also found myself dissatisfaced with the protagonist, Ophelia. She felt quite young through the book, much younger than the YA plot she was placed within. I confess that though it has been a week or two since I finished the book, I can’t remember her age, a detail that either slipped by me or didn’t feel true enough to the characterisation to remember.
‘I struggled to connect with her emotionally.’
Her indecision and uncertainties felt like the qualities of a young character rather than opportunities for her character’s development. At times she seemed petty and childish and her complete disinterest in romance struck me as unusual for a YA novel. I struggled to connect with her emotionally so many of her struggles fell flat as I wasn’t deeply affected by her turmoil.
She felt very out of place in the setting and the older cast of characters that surrounded her. Again, if this were a children’s or middle-grade novel, I may not have found the same issues disruptive, but my experience was skewed by my expectations of a YA character. Her agency was too restricted by the older characters that surround her and, unlike many YA characters who are similarly restrained, her efforts to gain her own autonomy felt weak.
These weaknesses aside, her character arc is clear and she visibly develops from the beginning to the end of the novel. There is definite development in her fight for autonomy, something I expect will grow further in the sequels. She is an interesting female lead, and I think she will get stronger and more interesting as the series progresses.
‘Simply put, the villain didn’t strike fear into me.’
It is hard to speak of the villain without risking spoilers, so I shall tread carefully here. Simply put, the villain didn’t strike fear into me. Again, they didn’t seem suited to a YA novel and there were other characters I found far more compelling as villains. The villain’s motives seemed trivial and their characterisation was unconvincing.
Overall, there were some editorial issues that I would have expected to be polished and the end result is not quite as refined as it possibly could have been. While there are some excellent elements, it is let down by some larger discordant aspects.
All that being said, it was a fun read and I’ll probably still jump onto the second book when it is released in May 2019.
Title: A Winter’s Promise, The Mirror Vistor, Book #1
Author: Christelle Dabos
Publisher: Text Publishing
Extent: 496 pp.
Read If You Like: The Night Circus, Jane Eyre, Stardust.