Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s novel The Way Past Winter (Chicken House £10.99, 10-14) has an icy setting and a warm heart. This timeless coming-of-age story (with an environmental theme), about brave Mila and her sisters who are on a quest through forests of endless winter to find their lost brother, uses fairy tale sources and a lyrical style.
From the opening page of this ambitious novel it is clear that Kiran Hargrave is a born writer. Her prose is packed with energy and her imagination commands instant belief... Keeping the tension going during all this occasionally repetitive fare is quite a challenge, with the final over-delayed outcome not quite the climax it should be. But there are still many good moments along the way, with the author delving into folklore and myth to enrich her already glowing prose.
Mila is the middle of three sisters who, along with their brother, Oskar, fend for themselves after their grief-stricken father disappears following his wife’s death in childbirth. They scrape out a life in a forest that’s frozen by an endless winter. One night, a stranger arrives, demanding food, but, by the morning, he’s gone — and Oskar is missing. Mila, convinced her brother has been kidnapped, sets out on a quest to find him and his mythical abductor, known as The Bear, accompanied by her younger sister and a mysterious boy Mage. This is another atmospheric folklore drama from award-winning Millwood Hargrave, starring a charismatic, resourceful heroine and underpinned by the unquenchable fire of sibling love. The evocation of ice and snow is so chilling that you’ll need to turn up the heating.
Told in vivid, often lyrical language, The Way Past Winter portrays a richly imagined world that is rooted in myth, magic and folk tales, while appealing to modern sensibilities and concerns... Hargrave has a great eye for poetic imagery, but, for me, it is her convincing depiction of the emotional push-and-pull of sibling relationships that makes her story memorable. As Mila steers her husky-drawn sled through the twists and turns of this wintry tale, young readers will stay with her every step of the way.
Some stages of the quest feel a bit of a trudge and the characters — bar Sanna, the explorer — feel rather thin in places. Yet Millwood Hargrave writes with lyricism and bounce, and there are moments, the breaking out of the snow and the finale action scene, that grip furiously. It’s in those moments that you stop making snippy CS Lewis comparisons and get lost in her magical world.