This one has been on my list for a long time; the cover looks really pretty, Sarah from The Aroma of Books liked it, and the Goodreads public seems to love it too, so I decided to give it a try.
Rois lives in a small English village in some unspecified earlier century with her father and sister, Laurel. The peace of this village is shattered when a stranger comes riding in on a horse, and turns out Corbet is not a stranger after all, but the victim of an old winter curse that everyone remembers differently. What exactly was the curse, who was the murderer, was there ever even a murder, and why is Rois so weird? These questions make up the story.
McKillip’s language is beautiful, she makes you feel with and for the characters, and even when she’s writing about something as stolid and normal as Rois’s farmer father, a bit of dreaminess slips in. I loved the imagery she creates, but there’s somehow a slightly eerie tone to her writing.
It was a song out of a forgotten kingdom, out of the deep, secret heart of the wood. It burned wild and sweet in my throat, in the back of my eyes. It lured and beckoned; it gave us glimpses of the land beyond the falling leaves, within the well. I wanted to find that place where such music grew as freely as the roses grew here, the place where the winds began, the place the full moon saw within the wood.
I loved the way she characterises the seasons; summer and spring are hope, love, colours and joy, and winter is white, empty, dark, and terrifying. This is where it gets a bit creepy, though; the winter and its descriptions drag on throughout the book, the season is, in fact the whole point of the story, so much so that McKillip sucks all the joy out of winter and gives it a sort of Dementor-like character. By the time the story ended, I was really happy that it never snows in Bombay and the worst that can happen is you have to wear three layers of clothes instead of two.
Summer ended between one breath and another, it seemed. One morning the first golden leaves appeared among the green. Then a tree flamed into crimson. The fields were stubbled gold, morning mists hanging over them, burned away slowly by the sun. Hot, blue summer sky slowly turned the deeper blue of autumn, as if it reflected, from another country, cold northern lakes and storms that did not touch us yet.
There is a lot of confusion in the manner in which the world-building is handled. It took me ages to realize there is actually another world involved in the story, that you can access it through dreams (apart from other ways), and differentiating between dreams and reality became really difficult (for me and Rois). I wasn’t very pleased with the romance angle either, the protagonists have very less time together, and half of that time also the hero spends making goo-goo eyes at someone else.
The story drags quite a bit; it’s the substance of a short story stretched to novel length, and it gets tiring after a while. It’s a good book though, and worth it for the evocative language alone; just make sure you don’t read it in winter.
Quotes to remember:
People gather, and drink, and dance, feelings begin to fly like trapped birds, things get spoken without words, music suggests things that simply can’t be…lovers suddenly wear too familiar faces, and other faces promise other worlds..
Are there different truths, the way there are different curses? Or is each curse a different truth?
P.S. This is Book 5 in the Brunch Book Challenge, my Twitter handle is @sindbadrose and the challenge handle is #BrunchBookChallenge.. 🙂