Quite unlike anything else I have read, this second book from Sally Weiner Grotta is multi-faceted, complex and wholly intriguing. Not quite dystopian, as the events are after but housing is rustic and devoid of technology, not wholly science fiction as the spiritual elements seem to be well-grounded from many cultures now on earth. There is an other-worldliness in this society that is female-dominant, but wholly nurturing to the males.
The story centers on the Valley of the Alleshi, and its newly trained Rishana and her “first boy’ Ryl. The women in this story have a complex task: they are to raise the boys with the knowledge and acceptance of peace and cooperation, taken wholly by the women. The goal is for them to become the guardians of the peace, having obtained the knowledge and spiritual enlightenment necessary to understand the necessity of their role.
And from here, the story winds through a journey of enlightenment and learning: both for the young Ryl and his widowed mentor Rishana. This is a coming of age story that shows growth and learning from more than one character: Ryl is brash, confident and recalcitrant, not always willing or interested in what is being taught. Rishana needs to use several different approaches to bring him to find his own ‘self’ beneath the bravado and brashness that is earlier displayed, and it tests her skills and determination to not lose patience or show her frustrations.
A trail through several inserts of spiritual beliefs and approaches to learning are brought in to the story, and several secondary characters are introduced as well as a thread of discontent that is festering in this apparently utopian society. Here I had some problems with the story as names changed repeatedly depending on who was interacting, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the voices of Ryl and Rishana were solidly imprinted on my mind, making the name changes almost unnoticeable.
What I have come to see as a trademark from this author is her gentle unfolding of the story, creating threads of warp and weft that disappear and reappear as needed, building the characters, setting and plot in a textured and layered form. Hers are not a quick reading book, it takes time to savor and enjoy, allow the prose to make its connection in your mind, and ready you for the next revelation. What emerges is a story that is rich in detail and character, with lingering questions about conflict, utopia, teaching and the roles that every member of society has in contributing to those elements.
Title: The Winter Boy
Author: Sally Wiener Grotta
Genre: Science Fiction, Science Fiction /Dystopian
Published by: Pixel Hall Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Heat: Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ iTunes ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound
Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Mary Doria Russell and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Winter Boy explores important political and social issues within a dynamic, character-driven otherworld, wrapped up in masterful storytelling.
The Valley of the Alleshi is the center of all civilization, the core and foundation of centuries of peace. A cloistered society of widows, the Alleshi, has forged a peace by mentoring young men who will one day become the leaders of the land. Each boy is paired with a single Allesha for a season of intimacy and learning, using time-honored methods that include storytelling, reason and sex. However, unknown to all but a hidden few, the peace is fracturing from pressures within and beyond, hacking at the very essence of their civilization.
Amidst this gathering political maelstrom, Rishana, a young new idealistic Allesha, takes her First Boy, Ryl, for a winter season of training. But Ryl is a “problem boy,” who fights Rishana every step of the way. At the same time, Rishana uncovers a web of conspiracies that could not only destroy Ryl, but threatens to tear their entire society apart. And a winter that should have been a gentle, quiet season becomes one of conflict, anger and danger.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.