I was recommended this book based on the fact that I also enjoyed Yoyage: Embarkation by Zachary Bonelli. It’s an intriguing little novella, one that has full page illustrations from the author inside. From what I’ve read, this novella is also the first in a six-part series, which promises to expand the Spanish world it wonderfully creates. It’s also a book that touches on so many different genres, it could also be classed as multi-genre, which can appeal to almost any type of reader.
For the most part, The Winter follows the story of Beltran, a farmer who wants very little from life, but to farm his land and look after his beloved wife, Amaranta. But as Isaac tells in his narration of Beltran’s story, the winter is a harsh one. Famine, locusts, storms, but more importantly, for the story anyway, a devilish plague of mysterious origins is spreadng across the land, taking many a victim and wiping out entire villages. Beltran doesn’t know what hits him when the Delirium comes and takes away all he knows dear. His fortune is turned around however, when on the first day of spring, a traveler turns up on his farm and offers him a way back in time, to a time before the Delirium hits and he can save the ones he loves. Although, Beltran soon realises there’s a price to pay and the more he tries to stop the impending doom, the more bad things start to happen and loses control.
First of all, one of the striking things about A. Ka’s work is the brilliant atmosphere she creates. You really do believe you are in the Spanish rural countryside, in 1553, on Beltran’s farm where the locals all depend on the harvest and stores they work so hard on, day after day. The Winter is extremely well imagined and built upon. I just didn’t read there was a storm; I felt there was a storm. It’s a way of life incomprehensible to most of us today, but A. Ka does the perfect job of recreating the world as it was for Beltran.
And when this realistic atmosphere is combined with the beautiful characters, then you really know you are on to a winner. For Beltran is one of the most tragic and most heroic characters I’ve read in a long time. He’s a humble farmer, he doesn’t want much. A life with his wife; he’s never even left his village before. He can’t read, he can’t write, but he has life experience. He can farm, along with his friend, Pedro, he built the little cottage in which he lives with Amaranta. It is for these reasons that you feel for Beltran as he tries so desperately so save his wife from the death he knows is coming. His raw emotion is chillingly infectious, but most of all, natural. If a story can draw sympathy so strongly, then it most certainly deserves to be read.
The story plays out very much like Groundhog Day; repeating the same winter over and over again as he tries to save people from the Delirium. When all goes wrong, he waits until Annunciation Day once more, for the mysterious traveler to turn up, so he can once again drink the potion and return to the day of the great storm. But what is the traveler’s true intentions? Each time he ‘goes back’, he learns something new. And why is he tasked with curing the Delirium infected people with the elixir the traveler informs him about. He’s just a humble farmer! Yet, although the demands increase, it is his love of his beloved wife that still comes to the forefront of everything he does.
Yet, despite the historical setting, there are elements of fantasy that come through. Obviously the going back in time covers that, the fantasy is dark and surreal at times. The people who are inflicted with the plague sprout gibberish. Amaranta speaks of someone stealing her name. There is certainly something more evil going on than Beltran first realises.
And this is where the story becomes a little confused. It isn’t a light story, it’s one that demands your undivided attention, yet you do start to wonder where the story is actually going. The mention of different colour riders, and indeed their inclusion late in the story, can confuse you. I had to reread parts as to understand which one was which. And who is Isaac? I got the impression that although more is yet to come in the series, undoubtedly explaining some of the mysteries within this instalment, too many questions were left unanswered. I wanted to know more. Yet, at least this is a good thing. If I didn’t care to find out more, then ultimately the book would have failed. Luckily for me, the next instalment, The Spring, is due out very soon.
Overall, A. Ka is wonderful storyteller, combining a historical setting with an almost surreal fantastical storyline. I longed for the story to continue, to answer my many questions, but despite all of that, my respect and attachment to Beltran’s tragic story was undeniably strong – a sure sign of the author’s ingenious craftsmanship. If you want to come out of your comfort zone and try something a little different this year, then make it this novella. With handfuls of atmosphere and captivating characters that stay with you after you’ve closed the book, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Even now, I can’t help but wonder what is next for Beltran; the farmer who desperately wanted to save his wife, because he couldn’t imagine life without her.
The Winter by A. Ka is available in paperback from:
The Winter by A. Ka is available in eBook from:
The Spring is due for release in March 2014
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