by Kate A. Boorman
Published on September 9, 2014
Source: ARC sent by publisher for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: Emmeline knows she’s not supposed to explore the woods outside her settlement. The enemy that wiped out half her people lurks there, attacking at night and keeping them isolated in an unfamiliar land with merciless winters. Living with the shame of her grandmother’s insubordination, Emmeline has learned to keep her head down and her quick tongue silent. When the settlement leader asks for her hand in marriage, it’s an opportunity for Emmeline to wash the family slate clean—even if she has eyes for another. But before she’s forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her into the woods, where she uncovers a path she can’t help but follow. The trail leads to a secret that someone in the village will kill to protect. Her grandmother followed the same path and paid the price. If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.
My take: Winterkill is an intriguing, beautifully written, original book. I'm not even sure what genre to call it -- I'm going to go with "alt-history suspense fable." Think Nathaniel Hawthorne meets Laura Ingalls Wilder meets Bluebeard. (And that cover is pure genius!)
I'd call Winterkill alt-history because it seems to take place in seventeenth or eighteenth-century Canada. There are groups in the book that speak French and/or English and also the mention of groups that sound like Native Americans. The story takes place in a small settlement that reminded me a little of the repressive Puritan New England of The Scarlet Letter. Men rule the settlement with an iron hand. People who break the rules are horribly punished.
The suspense comes in because the settlement appears to be under siege from something scary and murderous that no one can really describe. Citizens are chosen to keep watch, and residents aren't allowed outside the settlement walls without permission. "Waywardness breeds chaos and chaos breeds destruction," one of the settlement leaders says.
I'd call Winterkill a fable because it had an allegorical feel. Emmeline, the main character, is the grandaughter of a woman who was punished for her transgresssions. This "stain" has seeped through the generations to taint Emmaline, who tries to be dutiful and good, but can't help her curious, free-thinking ways. She likes to wander in the woods, looking for relics of a group she calls the Lost People. There are a lot of metaphors working here: freedom and constraint, discovery and concealment, openness and secrecy.
I thought this book was masterfully crafted and written right up until the end, when things took a turn I wasn't expecting. I learned from my blogger friend Starry Eyed Jen that there will be another installment, which helps explain the surprising turn of events, but I'm still not sure how I feel about what happened. To me, the almost dreamlike quality of the book was lost with that jolt of a plit development. However, this is a book I still really enjoyed and I still recommend it to fans of books like Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis or Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.