Winterkill was written by Kate A. Boorman and was first published in 2014. It combines elements of a fantasy, dystopian and historical novel to tell the story of a teenage girl coming of age in a remote and highly religious settlement. The novel is the first part of a planned trilogy and is followed by Darkthaw (2015). The final part of the trilogy – provisionally titled Heartfire – is expected to be released in late 2016.

Emmeline’s people have lived in the settlement for eight generations, banding together for safety after they were forced to leave the Western world. They have survived sickness and deadly winters by following their devout Councilmen, who put their faith in the virtues of Bravery, Honesty and Discovery. Anyone who is caught defying these precepts is declared Wayward and executed at the Crossroads to prevent them from causing damage to the community.

As an outcast in society, Emmeline knows that most people expect for her to become Wayward. She is stained – atoning for the sins committed by her grandmother long before she was born. As her sixteenth birthday nears, she knows that she will soon be of the age where she can be bound to a man. She wants nothing more for it to be Kane but when Brother Stockham – the leader of their community – starts to show an interest in her she starts to panic. Wedding the Councilman will absolve her of her stain but can she stand to be married to someone she does not love?

At the same time, Emmeline begins to have strange dreams that call her into the woods – the voices of a long dead race begging her to find them. Yet the woods are out of bounds and if she’s caught exploring them, Emmeline knows that she’ll be declared Wayward for sure. Yet that would be the least of her problems. The woods are also home to a terrible entity called the malmaci. If she ventures too far into the unknown, she could just as easily fall prey to the monster…

This novel is a very difficult on for me to review. It’s one of those books that I didn’t hate but didn’t really find particularly memorable either. For everything that I found to be excellent with it, there was something else that just wasn’t so great. Let’s start by taking a look at the world building.

The setting of the novel was just fantastic. Right from the word go, it made me really curious about Emmeline’s society. It seemed at first that the novel was just set in America during the pioneer era but as the story progressed, little things made be begin to doubt if this was actually the case at all. Although Emmeline’s community (which, come to think of it, didn’t really seem to have a name for itself) was insular and the people led a simple existence based around harvesting, trapping and herbalism, there were hints that the larger world was more technologically advanced. The trouble was that the novel didn’t develop much beyond this.

There isn’t much by way of world building. Over the course of Winterkill, Emmeline does not venture far from her village. What she does learn about the outside world is only in snippets and she does not seem overly interested these as she has no point of reference by which to understand them. Because of this, all we get by way of world building is how her town works. This is very simple (strict religious beliefs / prejudice and violence against those who stray from them) and some of the more supernatural elements (such as Emmeline’s dreams) are never explained. While the book was well written, there really wasn’t that much meat to the story on the whole.

The plot did build and intriguing mystery that was enough to keep me turning the pages. Even though Emmeline never got out into the world, she did slowly unravel the mystery of how her society worked – her grandmother’s crime, what happened to the Lost People, what the true nature of the malmaci was. Yet the plot wasn’t without its issues either. While it does pick up pace over the last fifty pages or so, the book is incredibly slow burning and contained a surprising amount of filler. Over the early part of the story, the mystery came in bursts and was liberally padded out with rather repetitive scenes of Emmeline gathering herbs, talking about her perceived sins and speaking with various people about what was going on.

The story was also lacking in originality. I don’t want to spoil the plot too much for you but let’s just say that it shares some striking similarities to M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, The Village. I don’t mean that it rips it off in its entirety but if you read the book with this in mind, I’m sure you’ll see what I mean. I also wasn’t convinced that there was really a need to have so much French dialogue in the story. Emmeline has grown up in a dual-linguistic society and, while she speaks English, she clearly understands French as she often explains these passages to the reader. This is just a little too repetitive. If Emmeline really has spent fifteen years surrounded by French speakers, I don’t think she’d really notice it all that much anymore.

The ending of the story was also a little anti-climactic. It was just all build up and little payoff. Really, the novel just seemed to end. When faced by the truths that Emmeline has uncovered, the villains really just shrug and give up. I’m not sure what I was expecting but after almost 350 pages of novel, it was certainly more than that.

The characters in the story are really quite varied. Emmeline was the only one that I really cared about because, as the narrative voice, she does get an awful lot of development. She starts out the story as a very conflicted character. She is restless but doesn’t want to cause her father any more suffering by acting on her Wayward instincts. She also feels ostracised and unclean due to the inherited shame of her grandmother’s actions. Yet over the course of the story, she comes to see that she’s her own greatest critic. Even though people in the village can be pretty horrible to her, she’s the sort who sees the glass as always being half empty and brings a lot of her misery on herself.

However, her relationship with Kane always felt a bit forced to me. She falls for him at first sight without even knowing his name and Kane reciprocates (in that stalkerish way that YA writers seem to think is charming) almost as quickly. Yet I never really understood why. The two of them don’t spend a lot of time alone over the course of the story so I never felt any tension building between them. Kane is also painfully dull. He’s such a blank slate that in the early part of the novel I actually felt that Brother Stockham seemed to have a whole lot more going for him.

Yet my opinion on him changed as the story progressed. Brother Stockham is, initially, the most interesting character. He has a dark past and hides an impressive array of secrets that Emmeline gradually uncovers as the story progresses. Yet, as time passed, his actions also began to make less and less sense. I had Stockham pegged as being some kind of evil genius but that gives him far too much credit. His motivations are rather chaotic and largely his actions are born of insanity rather than careful planning.

Beyond this, there aren’t really any secondary characters of note in the story. Tom had potential but gradually appears less and less as the story progressed and nothing was really made of his sexuality (which could have been an interesting plot point due to the fact it’s taboo in their culture) beyond the odd casual mention in Emmeline’s narrative. There was also Matisa and her cousins, who I was very curious to learn more about, but they appear so late in the story that they aren’t really important in the greater scheme of things. I hope they have more to do in the sequel as I’d love to learn more about them and their origins.

I suppose that’s probably a good point to wrap up this review. Although Winterkill has some nice ideas, it really failed to develop them. The plot was slow and a bit unoriginal and other than Emmeline, the characters were rather forgettable. However, I do have a copy of the sequel and so I plan to take a look at this in a future review to see if the story improves once Emmeline ventures out in the wider world.

Winterkill can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Darkthaw | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Heartfire | Arkham Reviews

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