Pros: Breathtaking fairy-tale feel; wonderful characters; a certain magical elegance of style
Cons: Hard to keep track of incidental characters; I wanted it to go on forever!
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 12/27/2002
The more I read of Patricia McKillip’s books, the more I fall in love with her stories, her characters, and her way with language.
Rois and her sister Laurel live on their father’s farm. Laurel is to marry Perrin in the spring, and Rois–well, Rois would rather run wild in the woods than settle down with anyone. Then Corbet arrives in town.
They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the color of buttermilk, but I saw him walk out of the wood.
Corbet is the heir of a local estate–it was abandoned years ago by his father and fell to pieces. Everyone believes that his father, a boy at the time, killed Corbet’s grandfather and was cursed by him. Everyone watches Corbet, wondering whether he is truly cursed, and if so, how.
I was kneeling at the well; I had just lifted water to my lips. The well was one of the wood’s secrets: a deep spring as clear as light, hidden under an overhang of dark stones down which the brier roses fall, white as snow, red as blood, all summer long. The vines hide the water unless you know to look. I found it one hot afternoon when I stopped to smell the roses. Beneath their sweet scent lay something shadowy, mysterious: the smell of earth, water, wet stone. I moved the cascading briers and looked down at my own reflection.
Rois is fascinated by Corbet and his curse. She becomes obsessed with tracking down which of the many theoretical curses is the true one spoken by Corbet’s grandfather, and why it was spoken. But Corbet and Laurel have shared glances over the evening fire, and something terrible blossoms between them. In Rois’s dreams Corbet calls to her for help, but in her waking hours she can only see the looks he gives her sister–not her.
Corbet, he called himself to the villagers. But I saw him before he had any name at all.
Everyone keeps secrets in this small village. Bits and pieces of the curse hide in grandparents’ memories. Rois’s mother died years ago, wasting away at the window of her home, waiting for something or someone who never came. And Corbet–every question put to Corbet elicits only evasion. Rois must solve this puzzle, and quickly, to save her sister’s life. But in order to understand Corbet’s curse, she must figure out her own tale.
That Fairy-Tale Feel
“Winter Rose” is a fairy tale in more than one sense of the word. It has the feel of every decent fairy tale–curses, siblings, mysterious strangers, and puzzles that must be unlocked. It contains elements I’ve seen before, and this isn’t a bad thing; this is hardly some rehashed, barely warmed-over, half-hearted retelling. It’s quite original and interesting, despite the fairy-tale familiarity.
It is also a fairy tale in that it tells a story of mortal dealings with the land of fairies. Not little people with wings, but the terrible, dangerous fey creatures who are, often as not, the downfall of the mortals who encounter them.
I loved the characters in this book. The book gave me a strong feel for the ones that showed up often. Rois, Laurel, Perrin, Rois’s father, Corbet, some of the people from the village–I enjoyed every one of them, and felt as though I knew them by the end of the book. This did, however, cause the natural problem that always emerges when the characters are too interesting in a book–I hated to let go of them at the end!
Perhaps the only flaw in the characters is that the tale deals with things that happened two generations ago, involving the memories of many people. After a while I lost track of a few of the people referred to. It wasn’t a strong enough effect to mar my enjoyment of the book, however; it was an incidental and momentary confusion. There was also one character I wanted to know more about, but I think I’ll avoid telling you about her–I don’t want to give too much of this lovely book away.
“Winter Rose” went by in the span of a heartbeat for me; I started reading it mid-morning and was done with it before dinner. It pulled me in and enchanted me. I had trouble returning to reality, and simply couldn’t start reading another book right away. My head was lost in the gorgeous world McKillip had evoked with her elegant words.