By Kate A Boorman
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN 978 0571313693
Teenager Emmeline lives with her father in a walled settlement that is locked up when dusk falls. The massive doors slam shut and no one is allowed in or out. Thick walls protect the inhabitants from a mysterious evil that wiped out many of their ancestors a long time ago.
Even during daylight hours, survival is not easy here, and the annual threat of a terrible winter is ever present. Emmeline leads a hard life from which there seems to be no escape.
The people inside the settlement live according to strict rules set down by the all-powerful Council. Everyone, young and old, has to observe three cardinal virtues: bravery, honesty and discovery. Straying from these virtues is punishable by death: Emmeline has to live with the memory that her grandmother committed a sin against the Council's rules and lost her life as a consequence.
Eyes are constantly on Emmeline to make sure she does not repeat the mistakes of her grandmother. Every day she keeps her head down, gets on with what is expected of her and keeps her thoughts to herself. She works as a plant gatherer for the herbalist Soeur Manon, and is told to put all her efforts into working for the community.
Em will soon be 16, the age when girls in the settlement can enter into a "bonding" with a man. But a terrible cloud hangs over her future. One of the councilmen is saying he intends to take Emmeline as his life bonding partner, something that doesn't appeal at all. How is she going to avoid this without being punished like her grandmother?
Em knows that her yearning for independence puts her in danger, but she cannot ignore it. She dreams about the Lost People who once lived outside the settlement. History says they have been wiped out, but Em has her doubts. There's only one way to find out.
Kate Boorman's slow-burning Winterkill is an atmospheric story of a young girl caught up in a life she does not want. Emmeline's story is set in a claustrophobic and mysterious place. Readers might feel that bits of the plot have been done before, but the characters are so strong this doesn't matter.
Boorman's clever world-building is carefully thought out and completely believable. She very wisely resists the temptation to turn Em into an all-action heroine taking on the Council. Em just wants to be free and live by her own rules, and the way she achieves this makes for a thrilling and touching read.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.