“Nothing is as it seems…”
is not only the theme for Katie John’s The Winter Queen, a teen fantasy woven in a world of fairy tales, but a concept that Katie uses in her presentation of the story and characters. We first see glimpses of this in May, a young English girl whose past contains such deep loss that it has shaped her feelings about herself and her interactions with others. The bright spot in May’s life is her best friend Tom, who has known her for years and is devoted to her and their friendship. But, this winter has brought a subtle shift in their feelings for each other that they each seem to sense but are unwilling to acknowledge. Before May can explore this change she is mysteriously swept into a fairy-tale realm. (Think Alice in Wonderland) This magical kingdom is enduring a never-ending winter due to the perpetual unhappiness of the king as the result of the unfaithfulness and loss of his queen. May’s unexpected appearance thrusts her into the position of savior for a starving people and dying land.
I will admit that I was initially unimpressed with this book. The characters and story-line seemed very predictable; appearances and similarities to familiar things led me to make expected assumptions about what the characters were going to do and how it was all going to play out. It wasn’t until the plot started to unfold that it became apparent Katie intentionally wanted the reader to feel smug, thinking they had it all figured out, to illustrate the point that we can never assume that things are what they seem. It was wonderfully entertaining to be surprised time and again by plot twists and revelations about the characters.
While I liked the book, there was something missing that I couldn’t put my finger on, which gave me pause in deciding how many stars to give The Winter Queen. I knew it was targeted towards teens so I asked my 14 year old daughter to read it and give me her opinion. She was initially struck with the predictability and not particularly interested in this assignment then she disappeared; she was seriously holed up in her room wrapped up in the story. She loved it but was able to articulate that it needed more descriptions, both details and impressions. I had to agree but also wondered if this wasn’t somewhat due to the fact that this is a 3/4 novel, limiting Katie on the number of words. However, it does allow the reader to make great use of their imagination.
The Winter Queen, by Katie M. John, is a well-written and age appropriate gem that will surprise and enthrall teen readers and definitely worth reading.