The Winter Boy
Sally Wiener Grotta
This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.
A nominee for the prestigious Locus Award and a Bookwatch Reviewers' Choice
Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Mary Doria Russell and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Winter Boyexplores 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 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 threaten 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 great book... in the 'must read' category for anyone who enjoys a cultural fantasy...” –Charline Ratcliff, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“…A literary triumph” – Dr. Babus Ahmed
"...with the kind of mysterious tone and a sense of a complete world apart that is the hallmark of the best.... The Winter Boy... exists in... a mythic, spiritual realm. Even ordinary lines resonate with this sense of the unseen." – Peter Damien Bellis, author of "The Conjure Man"“
“An amazing, tour-de-force literary work completely unlike anything I have ever read.... People will be studying and talking about The Winter Boy for years to come."– Wendy Delmater Thies, Abyss and Apex Magazine
A free Study Guide for The Winter Boy, for book clubs, teachers and other book discussion groups is available from the publisher Pixel Hall Press.
a story that is rich in detail and character, with lingering questions
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.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. All conclusions are my own responsibility.
A Challenging, Yet Richly Rewarding Post-Dystopian Tale
I would like to thank Pixel Hall Press & NetGalley for granting me a copy of this e-book to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review.
This book will make you think, whether you want to or not. It is an extremely well crafted story, with only a few places where the pace became too slow for me, but those lulls never lasted too long. And frankly they likely gave me much needed respite from the intensity of the story, the emotions within it, and that it brought out within me.
Rishana is in many ways the true embodiment of "Every Woman," which is what Allesha means. Through her journey we watch and experience a vast range of emotions as the comfortable layers she has wrapped herself in are painfully peeled away. All that she knew and believed in is slowly being taken from her, but in such a way as to leave her trapped within a system that is nothing like she'd been taught it was, and had built it up to be. In her own way Rishanna goes through many of the same Stages as Ryl, though she doesn't seem to be aware of it. Of course her experiences are different, and she wasn't trained to deal with her own emotional journey, but rather the journey of her boy for each season.
During the course of these revelations she also must deal with her First Boy. Ryl is an angry youth, a "problem boy." The kind of boy Rishanna had been trained to work with. And there is something more to this boy, a dangerous secret that has been kept from them both. The information, when it comes out, has the power to destroy lives. Yet it may be the one thing that can save all their lives, not too mention their way of life. The only way to know for sure is to stay alive long enough to see which card comes up next in the hand they've been dealt, and to trust that the foundation Rishanna has built with Ryl is strong enough to withstand the blows he will be dealt.
The lessons are taught both through what Rishanna teaches Ryl over the course of his Season with her, and through the books that they read to each other on the cold winter nights. It makes for an interesting combination, and keeps things from getting too mired down in the rules and regulations of the Alleshi and the Alleshine Peace. As the characters evolve, which happens to both teacher and student, so to do the lessons contained within the stories they read. Emotional attachments are a tricky topic, for sex is used as a teaching method, so teacher and pupil are bound to grow close, and risk becoming too attached. That may be more of a risk with the problem boys, as the emotions are likely to run higher and hotter, but it also makes the rewards that much sweeter. Of course, as Ryl is her first boy, Rishanna has no prior experience to gauge the situation by, only the advise of her mentor. But the fractions taking place within the Alleshi Valley are taking place between individuals as well. Does Rishanna dare to trust Dara to give her honesty, or will Dara continue to try to manipulate and mold her into what she feels is best for the Alleshi?
Framing these lessons is the issue of a violent nomadic people who destroy every village they encounter, slaughtering every person, down to the last infant. How do people of peace protect themselves from such violence without becoming the same as the aggressor? And what happens when those who are at the very heart of that peace have different ideas on how to protect the peace?
It is through the questions that Ryl constantly asks, as well as the way Rishana questions the motives of the Alleshi themselves, that we learn the lessons Ms. Grotta is trying to impart. How do you cope when the very foundations of your world are stripped away? What is your response to discovering that those you trusted most have manipulated you into a specific position? Can you continue forward, and trying to fix the system from within, or do you make a break and start a new system using only those pieces of the original method that match your ideals? Should only a few possess the real power, or should it be spread more widely? How do you stay vigilant enough to spot stress fractures before they become cracks and risk breaking away, or worse yet, breaking the entire system? These are just a few of the questions that the characters will be confronted with, and the reader along with them.
This book will have you challenging not only the concepts within the story, but also concepts you've always accepted. With just a few decisive words Ms. Grotta will have you questioning the very bedrock of your own personal beliefs, and testing the strength of that foundation. Is your history everything you thought it was? Is there more going on behind the scenes? How did you end up where you are now? Was it of your own choosing or were you subtly manipulated into your position? These questions, and more, we should probably never stop asking ourselves. Never simply accept the surface view as being all there is. Just because it is the status quo now doesn't mean it should remain that way, does it? And of course how do you confront violence and survive, without becoming as bad as the aggressor?
Yawn, puerile, superficial
Do I need so say more? Have read this story line before and much better done.
Author is pre-pubescent in sexual dimensions. Saccherine - avoid avoid avoid