The Winter Place by Alexander Yates

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The Winter Place by Alexander Yates

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Evocative fantasy incorporating Finnish mythology. The book is a study of grief, sibling loyalty, and the blurring of the real and the supernatural. Strong on character and setting.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1471123839

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Axel and Tess live in rural New York state with a father obsessed with mediaeval reconstructions. They have a knight for a father! This eccentricity is both entertaining and a good thing - because Sam is the only parental figure in their lives. Axel and Tess's mother died when Axel was born. Tess is just moving into oppositional adolescence. She and Sam enjoy sparring over the care of Axel, who has inherited a rare form of muscular dystrophy from his late mother. Axel is, well, an individual child, currently haunted by a mischievous wheelchair only he can see. The pesky thing follows him everywhere.

And then, one dreadful night, the wheelchair is supplanted by a bear and its keeper. And it's not only Axel who can see the bear. Tess sees it, too. And then Sam is killed in a freak car accident. And Tess and Axel are whisked off to Finland, to live with grandparents they've never met. And the bear and its keeper follow them there...

... as Tess and grandmother Janna face off over new circumstances, Axel retreats further and further towards the path offered by the impossible bear. By the time Tess realises the danger her brother is in, it may be too late to save him.

The Winter Place is a study of grief incorporating Finnish mythology. It's a beautiful read, with evocative settings and strong characters clashing despite the bonds between them, punctuated by a good few dollops of deadpan humour. I found it truly absorbing. Landscape looms large throughout but the characters are strong enough to stand out against them. I loved the sparring between Tess and Janna and the way in which Axel can quietly confound them both. And I rooted for everyone.

This is a story for readers who enjoy seeing reality bleed into fantasy and wondering about the possibility of the supernatural. Axel and Tess have just lost their father, their lives are in absolute upheaval, and the book's atmosphere of dreamscape doesn't seem in the least impossible, given the intensity of their grief and anger and fear. These overlapping borders get a little confusing in the latter half of the story and so this is one for the adventurous tweens and early teens, who recognise the power of mythology.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Winter Place. It's as truthful as it is fantastical, and its depiction of landscape is outstanding.

And PS: don't you love the cover of the UK edition of the book? I think it's absolutely gorgeous. Much nicer than the US choice. Sorry, American readers!

If The Winter Place appeals, I think you might also enjoy Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick.

Buy The Winter Place by Alexander Yates at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Winter Place by Alexander Yates at

Buy The Winter Place by Alexander Yates at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Winter Place by Alexander Yates at


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