Book Title: The Winter Boy
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.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publishers through Netgally in return for an honest review.
First of all, I love the cover! Secondly, this is an intriguing, thought provoking and highly enthralling read! I loved it!
Rishana is a young widow, who has been training to become an Alleshi, a type of teacher and mentor, to young men from the villages surrounding their valley. I really liked this woman. She is very determined and driven to help, but quite naive at times. I loved watching her learn and grow as an Allesha (I'm not really sure how to pronounce it i.e. Alle-sha or All-e-sha), along with her Winter Boy.
Ryl is a hotheaded young man of eighteen, who is proud to be chosen as a Winter Boy to become an Aleman (a type of diplomat). He is a very likable and charming character, and I loved watching him blossom into a confident young man. But, his life is about to change forever when secrets long held are revealed.
I was intrigued with the blurb, but as I started to read this book, I was unprepared for the emotional roller coaster I was to be taken on; I was hooked from the first page. I was impressed with the world building, but I couldn't tell how far into the future this book was set. The characters talk about a time before the Great Chaos, so I knew it was post-apocalyptic due to mention of war and modern weapons such as guns. However, it had a tribal feel to it, similar to what I would think of as Native American and other cultures with similar belief systems mixed in to give it a multicultural feel, but based on peace. These tribes live in small villages with different names for the people who lived in them, such as the Mukane, Emet and Birani. There is also a group of people called the Mwertik, who are attacking the villages with no apparent reason. The other characters in this story were very interesting too. The Alleshi of the valley have their own characteristics and temperaments, and keep their own secrets.
This story is not a fast read by any means, nor is it my usual genre, but it is totally absorbing. The changing names of the characters (depending on who was speaking to whom - other Allesha or family members) were a bit confusing at times, which gave me a bit of a headache trying to remember them all and keep them straight. The lessons between Tayar (Ryl's name for Rishana) and Dov (Rishana's name for Ryl) range from the domestic to sexual, philosophical and political. I loved watching Tayar's and Dov's relationship develop, but it was the undercurrent of political intrigue that wended through the tale that kept me on the edge of my seat. The women of the Alleshi teach about peace and trade, rather than war and death, but when one of their own becomes jaded and makes a rash decision, their way of life is threatened. Meanwhile, Ryl/Dov finds out that his life is not all it seems, and that he has a difficult destiny ahead of him. The end of the book left me feeling rather sad, but happy too; it was bittersweet, as both Ryl and Rishana have to make difficult decisions about their future. I don't know if the author is going to continue to follow Rishana's life, or Ryl's, but I hope there will be another book, because I want to know if Ryl manages to contact the Mwertik successfully.
Sally Wiener Grotta has written an intriguing tale with a unique premise. Her writing style is not particularly fast paced, but it is very descriptive. I did feel that the flow of the story was interrupted by the various names used for the characters. If she had kept her characters to one name and the pet names for Rishana and Ryl, it may have flowed more smoothly. Nevertheless, I think I would definitely read more of this author's books in the future.
I highly recommend this book to adults who love deeply enthralling post-apocalyptic fiction with a philosophical twist. - Lynn Worton
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