An ordinary girl learns that her family hails from a magical land and that she must battle a notorious witch—Baba Yaga.
Noah would rather spend his sick day playing his Nintendo, but his grandfather insists on telling him a story about the boy’s own family and how they came from a different realm. The tale focuses on a striking girl named Winter, who lives a perfectly ordinary life (“Winter was tall and willowy. She had eyes the color of an arctic storm, and her hair was silvery-white”). Her parents own an antiques store, she encounters bullies in school, and only her close friends understand her. Except in this Earth Realm, the police have been replaced by the nefarious Knight’s Guard, who have arrested Winter’s parents and soon try to seize her for being one of the exiled Icelandians. Apparently Winter and her friends are descendants of the enchanted rulers of that world, which is now controlled by the wicked Baba Yaga, who turns her enemies into ice statues. Winter discovers her magical powers, her family’s secret history—including the troubles of deposed Queen Malala, her grandmother, and her sister Summer’s struggles against Baba Yaga—and a way to fight back. Interwoven in the tale are some big, important themes, like bigotry and tolerance. The ending of this latest fantasy novel by Kane (Matty’s Adventures in Numberland, 2014, etc.) promises more exploits to come. While this is an enthralling premise for a middle-grade book, the execution is not quite successful. The structure—grandpa tells Noah about Winter, older Icelandians tell Winter about Summer—interrupts momentum. For example, after Winter escapes from the Guard, the action stops for her to hear all about her family, which drains tension. Similarly, the story speeds past many scenes, so that readers will discover that a “battle raged on for hours” or that “Many winters had come and gone.” This gives the narrative a fairy-tale quality, but doesn’t offer a lot of engaging details. There are kernels of many intriguing episodes here, such as Winter deciding to trust Queen Malala. But as a protagonist, Winter accomplishes little.
An ambitious adventure about a formidable foe in a frozen realm that lacks a dynamic heroine and a fast-paced plot.