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Monday, March 21, 2011

'Winter's Shadow' by M.J. Hearle

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Blake Duchamp...

He's all that Winter Adams can think of. Ever since their fateful meeting at Pilgrim's Lament. Ever since he looked at her with those emerald eyes. Ever since he saved her life.

But Blake isn't all that he seems. There is a strangeness about him, something dark and otherworldly. Something dangerous. In his attic is a secret he would kill to defend, but Winter seems to have a special ability to make him forget his duty. And he is her only protection against the gathering darkness.

The only problem is, to protect Winter, Blake must risk exposing her to an even greater danger. Himself.

It has been six months since Winter’s parents died. Six months and Winter is barely coping with the swamp of school work and a guilty conscience. Her sister, Lucy, has put her life and university studies on hold to become Winter’s guardian . . . and how does Winter repay her? By getting behind in her school work and being forced to join the school paper for extra credit in photography.

And so one morning Winter finds herself atop Owl Mountain, taking photos of an old church for the upcoming newspaper edition. It is here that Winter first spies the mysterious new boy in town, Blake Duchamp. Not only does Winter meet him, she is saved by him – from the church’s collapsing roof. Blake is Winter’s knight in shining armour – disconcertingly handsome, kind, and for some strange reason he’s interested in Winter . . .

Blake lives in the haunted Velasco House. Residents of Hagan’s Bluff have been whispering warnings about the Velasco place for as long as Winter can remember . . . but as his story unfolds, it becomes clear that the only ghosts living in Velasco are the ones Blake bought with him, literally. Someone lives in the rooms above – playing music and laughing at Blake’s folly as he tries to resist the temptation that Winter poses.

Because Blake is dangerous. He is doomed and damned, and the last thing Winter needs is to fall in love with him . . .

M.J. Hearle’s debut novel is an ode to Gothicism – a sinister feast of fancy that draws comparisons to every dark tale, from ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ to ‘Jane Eyre’ and Edgar Allan Poe.

I will warn readers that ‘Winter’s Shadow’ has a slow start. Hearle revels in writing ambiance . . . before any of the action really begins; he takes time to tease-out the intrigue. He casts his characters in doom and desperation and sets the stage for a Machiavellian tale. It’s sinisterly delightful, if a little slow going.

Juxtaposed with Winter and Blake’s narrative is a flashback story set in 1878 and travelling between Paris, Munich and many places in between. The reader follows the tragic journey of Madeleine Bonnaire . . . a woman who flees her tormenting husband, only to fall in love with the equally dangerous and mysterious Ariman. I must admit, the story of Madeleine often seemed jarring and disconnected from Winter and Blake’s tale, and it’s not until roughly page-236 that the pieces of Madeleine’s puzzle start to fall into place and connect with the present-day. Readers will enjoy trying to guess the correlation between Madeleine’s past and Winter’s present, but it’s a curveball you won’t see coming until it’s too late . . .

I really loved the character of Blake Duchamp. Hearle offers Blake’s perspective haphazardly throughout the book, but never gives anything away. In fact, having Blake narrate only adds to his intrigue. Blake spends most of the book thinking himself unworthy of Winter’s affections. Meanwhile, mysterious laughter drifts down from the top-storey rooms of Velasco house, a maniacal manifest of Blake’s inner cynic;
A horrible rasping sound echoed from the floor above, shattering the silence of the old house. The cats scampered away in terror, disappearing into the shadows. The sound grew in volume. Laughter.
It was laughing at him.
I was constantly guessing about Blake’s character. Did I trust him? Should Winter be with him? What is he hiding and is he really as bad as he thinks himself to be? I kept trying to guess at Blake’s ‘secret’, and while I came pretty close in my assumptions, Hearle really does excel in making the character (and his mythical background) all his own. The world-building is quite artful and original (not a vampire or werewolf in sight!);
Winter dreamt that she awoke in the middle of the night to see Blake standing at the foot of her bed, his eyes burning with green fire, illuminating the darkness.
He didn’t say anything, just stood there watching her sadly. It made her heart ache to see him looking so mournful, and she tried to tell him that it was all right, that everything would be fine, but when she spoke no sound came out of her mouth. There was just the roar of the ocean and the sound of bells chiming in the distance.
If I have any complaints about ‘Winter’s Shadow’, it’s the (lack of) scene-setting. I have been reading some fantastic Australian fantasy novels lately. Between Jessica Shirvington, Kirsty Eagar and Marianne de Pierres, the land of Oz has been churning out some stellar young adult paranormal/fantasy books. One of the reasons I love reading Australian YA is the scene-setting – I loved Eagar’s ‘Saltwater Vampires’ for the way she manipulated the iconic Australian beach into something dark and sinister, an unlikely backdrop for her vampire tale to play out. So I went into ‘Winter’s Shadow’ excited that another author would utilize the Aussie scenery.

The story is set in the fictional town of Hagan’s Bluff. The opening chapters were promising, as Winter ventures to Owl Mountain for a school photography assignment. It seemed certain that Hagan’s Bluff would be a little Australian country town. But as the story unfolds it becomes (un)clear that Hagan’s Bluff could be in England, America or Australia – it’s a hazy background, at best. And I found myself wishing that Hearle had utilized landscape more – especially because he makes so many references to the importance of setting in Gothicism. Hearle mentions the moors in Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, and Winter draws a comparison between Blake’s Velasco house and the house of Usher in Poe’s famous short story. I just think he missed a few opportunities to enrich the story and cast a more sinister backdrop for Winter’s tale to unfold. If he’d only written about the screaming magpies of the morning or the twisted limbs of the Owl Mountain gumtrees . . . anything to orientate the reader by casting a more precise scene and grounding the characters.

‘Winter’s Shadow’ is an incredible YA debut from Aussie author M.J. Hearle. I'm not sure if this debut is a stand alone, or the first in a series? I really hope there’s more to come, if only because Hearle has tapped into a fancifully frightening fantasy topic that’s unique to for the YA genre. ‘Winter’s Shadow’ is a gloriously Gothic young adult tale of love, redemption, and the monster in all of us . . .

4/5

'Winter's Shadow' will be released:
May 24th 2011

5 comments:

  1. This sounds like a beautifully haunting story! Great review Dani =D

    btw, OMF Aline in the Family was AMAZING!!!

    I want a Poof!!! LOL

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for the kind words Dani, I'm glad you enjoyed my book. Rest assured, I'm hard at work on the sequel right now and have a feeling it's going to turn out even better. I'm thinking of calling it Winter's Light and it should be out some time next year.
    I thought I'd address your criticism about not placing Hagan's Bluff squarely in the Australian landscape. Firstly, I completely understand where you're coming from. Australia has such a beautiful and varied landscape, why not take advantage of it? All I can say is that this was a conscious decision. I wrote Winter's Shadow with an international audience in mind and felt the Australian landscape was so iconic that it might make it harder for an English, American, Chinese etc. reader to identify with a story that takes place there. I wanted Hagan's Bluff to potentially exist in any country, so kept the setting ambiguous on purpose.
    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review and look forward to hearing your thoughts on Winter's Light when it's released next year.
    Take care,
    M.J.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree that Winter's Shadow has a slow begining but then i coundn't put the book down. i think i read over half of it in one after. I almost cried towards the end and hope the the lomous(i can't remeber the right spelling) stone will help winter get blake back

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  4. this was a great book, i really loved.
    i cried in the last couple of chapters when Blake sacrificed himself for the love of his life.
    and now i'm really looking forward to the sequel of this book.
    PS. if your a faint hearted person don't read the last couple of chapters:)

    ReplyDelete