The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The first thing about this book that caught my eye was just how beautiful it was: the green binding, the interior pattern, the embossed cover-art — I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it really is a lovely object to behold.
The story itself rides the current popular wave of Scandinavian-based fairy tales, and reads a little like Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”. Winter has lasted for five years in Eldbjørn Forest, and siblings Oskar, Sanna, Mila and Pipa are barely hanging on. After their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, the four of them live all alone in the woods, seeing nothing in their futures but more of the bitter cold.
But after a strange encounter in the forest with a huge, bear-like man and his silent entourage, Mila wakes up to find her brother has disappeared. She insists he wouldn’t abandon them, and though Sanna is more cynical, the sisters agree to make for the nearest village. It’s there they discover that all the young men in the vicinity have gone missing, victims of the same mysterious man.
Only one remains — a young mage known as Rune, who offers to take Mila to where her brother is being held captive. It’ll be a long, dangerous journey through winter, but there’s no other way if Mila wants her family reunited.
The Way Past Winter (2018) is a sweet, simple fairy tale that feels right at home in the tradition of stories told round the fire at night, and is especially good at capturing the feeling of intense cold that Mila must endure throughout her journey. (I read this on a hot summer’s day, and I still felt chilled!)
Kiran Millwood Hargrave uses some interesting tweaks to the usual format of old tales, such as the fact Sanna the eldest was the more adventurous of the two sisters, while Mila was a more timid homebody (though the youngest Pipa is as wild as all youngest sisters should be) and although it’s not as rare as it once was, it’s always nice to see girls take on the role of hero in order to rescue their male companions.
The Way Past Winter isn’t hugely memorable, but reminded me of Emily Winfield Martin’s Snow & Rose: the same fairy tale ambience, same emphasis on female characters, same beautiful presentation.
• Written by award-winning and internationally recognized author Kiran Millwood Hargrave • Inspired by European folklore • Middle grade novel that explores deeper topics — grief, inner strength, and the unbreakable bonds of family
Determined to save their brother, Mila and her sisters set out on a mission to rescue him. But challenges await them at every turn: wolves with the speed of demons, tempestuous gold, an untrustworthy mage — and always the relentless, stinging freeze of winter. The Way Past Winter is a classic adventure story in the vein of Phillip Pullman, Anne Ursu, and Kelly Barnhill that evokes the best of the middle grade fantasy genre.
• A beautifully written, smartly paced tale of riveting adventure with a focus on family • Perfect for children ages 10 and up who love fantasy and magic • You’ll love this book if you love books like Greenglass House by Kate Milford, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.