The Winter Boy, by Sally Wiener Grotta, is the story of Rishana, a widow belonging to an elite society of women, called the Alleshi, who keep the peace of the land by mentoring the young men who will someday lead the scattered tribes and peoples. Each boy is paired with an Allesha for a season of training in storytelling, intimacy, and leadership. Winter is supposed to be an especially peaceful season, but as Rishana is soon to find, there is nothing peaceful about her First Boy, the idealistic Ryl. Furthermore, the peace is threatened from inside and out with conspiracy threatening to tear their world apart.
This is a novel that unfolds rather than explodes, the pacing like that of a winter season — slow and deliberate. The relationship between the two main characters is articulated quite beautifully, if rather slowly, more like freezing water or falling snow than a winter storm. The Winter Boy is a book that unfurls, blossoming from a tight bud into a full bloom, as the character interactions and plot thicken with the dynamics of personality and discovery, filled with old stories of the land and new realizations coming to light. Readers should be prepared for a heavy novel steeped in history and lore. There are lots of characters to track and most of them carry multiple names, so the cast list can feel overwhelming at times, though the writer does an admirable job of keeping it all straight for the reader. This is the type of book that not everyone will enjoy, but that the right kind of reader, having found this book, will rave about for years to come.
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