WINTERWOOD by SHEA ERNSHAW
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Winterwood is the second book I’ve read by Shea Ernshaw. The first was her debut, The Wicked Deep. Both books have similar themes of witchcraft, family, and star-crossed romance. Whereas The Wicked Deep is more maritime with its witchery (there’s a lot of drowning going on in that book), Winterwood is all about the snow, as the title would suggest. This novel follows Nora Walker, a solitary teenager who lives across the lake from a disciplinary camp for boys. Nora and her family are witches, according to local legends, each Walker woman possessing a “nightshade” that allows them to do things like calm honeybees and walk into other people’s dreams.
When a massive snowstorm blows through Jackjaw Lake, where Nora’s home borders, Nora finds a boy half dead in the infamous Wicker Woods, an ominous forest only Walker women fear to tread. Nora takes the boy, named Oliver Hunstman, home and nurses him back to health. The two of them begin to unravel the mystery surrounding Oliver’s disappearance–and the death of another boy in the disciplinary camp that no one seems to have an answer for. What follows is a story full of magic, snow, and a dash of romance for good measure.
Ernshaw’s greatest strength is in her writing. She knows how to weave a tangible story. As in her first novel, the mountains of Jackjaw Lake and the trees of the Wicker Wood are described in painstaking detail. You can feel the snow underfoot and the cold in your bones as you read. Setting as character is a great way to make readers feel immersed in your story, and Ernshaw does just that. She does an enchanting job at making you feel like you’re at Jackjaw Lake and I really appreciate it. The concept of magic in this book is fun as well. It’s not traditional magic, with wands and rhyming, but a type of folk magic infused with whimsy. I loved reading about the brief histories of the other Walker witches–Nora’s ancestors–and how their own nightshades worked.
There were some things I didn’t really love about Winterwood, however. I felt the pacing to be quite glacial at times. Nothing really happens, and then a huge flurry of things happens, and at the end of a chapter, you’re sitting there like, wait, what does this mean? There’s also a matter of the mystery. I had an inkling of what the mystery was going to be as I read, and Ernshaw makes it fairly obvious at the beginning of the book if you’re really paying attention to the prose. There’s also a few instances of Ernshaw insisting the Walker witches are older than the forest itself, that they were at Jackjaw Lake long before anyone or anything else. What about the indigenous people of the area? Wouldn’t they have been there way before the Walker women? Plot hole, I guess.
Aside from those few hiccups, I enjoyed Winterwood. It’s the perfect read for a dark, snowy night.
You can pick our copy up at the Oreana library today!