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A Winter’s Tale

by Gail Sidonie Sobat

The second in a planned trilogy of young adult fantasy novels by Edmonton author Gail Sidonie Sobat features a land suffering under the rule of a cruel lord named Winter, who outlaws festivities. The witches in this land are heroic characters who heal the sick, rescue the oppressed, and bring peace, while their counterparts the Bookwomen spread learning and love of books. Feminism in A Winter’s Tale is taken for granted: Ingamald, the copper-haired young witch introduced in Sobat’s earlier Ingamald, is the unquestioned leader of her group of friends, the most gifted, resourceful, active, and fair-minded. Though hot-tempered, Ingamald is also self-sacrificing and nurturing, thus managing to embody qualities from both gender stereotypes.

Sobat plays with gender and fairy tale conventions: Ingamald had earlier wakened a sleeping prince with a kiss, and invites young men to spend the occasional night with her (no details provided), while assuring them that commitment is not for her. Romantic love is sidelined in this fantasy in favour of comradeship. Together, Ingamald’s friends struggle against the growing powers of Winter, a sadistic sensualist who embodies all the seven deadly sins. Some readers may be disturbed by Winter’s tortures, although they’re counterbalanced by Ingamald’s hard-won decision not to use evil to achieve good.

Despite plentiful action, clear-cut conflict, and an attractive heroine, A Winter’s Tale is not an easy read. Changing points of view, italicized dream visions, references to events from the previous novel, and an unresolved ending demand alert readers. In her use of language, too, Sobat stretches her audience with arcane words and idioms, used imaginatively if not always consistently. The poetic language and allusions to classic children’s fantasy culminate in the scene of Ingamald passing through a looking glass, into a world doubtless to be explored in the next book.