Crockett returns to the harsh, wintry world of After the Snow (2012) in this prequel, which traces the harrowing journey that begins when Magda survives the destruction of her Polish village and culminates when she meets Willo and his father.
Magda, in spite of her admirable ability to find contentment in difficult situations, is a character destined to suffer, as the violence of the decaying world strips her of one caring relationship after another (aptly foreshadowing her sad fate in After the Snow). From her grandmother’s death to her abandonment when pregnant with twins, life offers her little but heartache. However, her tragedies lack the emotional depth of Willo’s comparable losses from the first novel, perhaps because Crockett omits the bold dialect and narrative style that made her debut characters so riveting. Also missing in this installment are the infusions of joyful humanity that provided such devastating points of contrast to the brutality of humanity’s moral decline in After the Snow. Occasional brief narrative shifts that examine the lives of an elderly woman, a jaded city dweller, a soldier, a crow and Willo add interest and broaden the novel’s scope, contextualizing Magda’s story as one strand of suffering among many.
Ultimately, this prequel lacks the inventiveness and atmospheric intensity of the first novel, but it still works as a stand-alone cautionary tale about environmental change. (Post-apocalyptic adventure. 12 & up)