'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Review: A Winter's Promise (The Mirror Visitor: Book 1)

The title and cover of this book immediately captured my attention: A Winter’s Promise (The Mirror Visitor: Book 1). What could such a promise entail, when the cover image shows an ancient, tower-encrusted city floating precariously in mid-air? I envisaged dangerous landscapes, bitter cold, hidden warmth and a struggle for survival. These promises were fulfilled, and so many more, for I could not have fully imagined the spectacular world that was about to be laid out before me.

Written by French author, Christelle Dabos, and translated by Hildegarde Serle, with the cover illustration by Laurent Gapaillard, this book carried me away to a world that lingered long after closing the book.

This world has been shattered; ruptured into vast suspended fragments, called Arks. Each Ark is overseen by one family spirit, seemingly part-mortal and part-deity, whose unique talents are evident in some of their descendants and have shaped the markedly different trajectories of each Ark’s society. These family spirits are intertwined with each other and somehow bound to a strange and ominous book.

On the Ark of Anima, where objects have souls, lives a young woman called Ophelia, with an exceptional talent for reading the history of an object, specifically the thoughts each person had at the time of touching it. Ophelia’s fingertips reveal secrets many would prefer stayed hidden. Her level of skill makes Ophelia exceptional as an Archivist in the family’s museum where she feels content and safe to live her life, with no interest whatsoever in finding a husband, as so many of her contemporaries have done.

However, Ophelia’s own world is suddenly shattered, when the Ark’s Doyennes betroth her to Thorn, a mysterious man from an Ark on the other side of the ruptured world, the Pole – a land of eternal winter.

As Ophelia tries to come to terms with why the Doyennes have chosen her for this path and how she will survive, let alone be happy again, we learn of another talent. Ophelia can travel through mirrors, but she cannot mirror-travel over so great a distance from Ark to Ark, and therefore must leave behind all she has ever known and loved.

As Ophelia struggles to understand the myriad illusions and lethal political intrigues that constitute daily life in the Pole, we see that she is wiser and stronger than her unobtrusive appearance belies, more so than she or anyone else believes her to be, particularly her aloof, disinterested fiancée. In this new world, Ophelia faces insurmountable odds, life-threatening dangers and must find a way to survive, and somehow thrive, without losing her true self.

Dabos’ characterisation and exceptional world-building allow us, the readers, to see incredible landscapes, through the eyes of the naïve traveller in Ophelia, but also through her talent for reading objects. We slowly realise the depth of danger Ophelia faces, as the political and physical threats rise to deadly levels. As Ophelia desperately seeks to discover who she can trust, the illusions blanketing her new home fool her again and again. This is enthralling speculative fiction at its best, with skilled world-building, fantastical elements, extraordinary abilities, political intrigue and complex characters. This is the first in a four book series, The Mirror Visitor Quartet, and has been a winner of the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire award for speculative fiction.

Title: A Winter’s Promise (The Mirror Visitor: Book 1)
Author: Christelle Dabos (translated by Hildegarde Serle)
Publisher: Text publishing, $22.99
Publication Date: 1 October 2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925603828
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult Fiction