Winter’s Child by Cameron Dokey
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai’s grandmother, and sharing in each other’s secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai – and their friendship – away. Dejected, Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost, and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai . . . and discover herself.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling
Okay, so first off, I need to clarify a couple of things about that summary up above, because seriously, Once Upon a Time series, you need to fire whoever writes these for you. Number one, it’s Grace’s grandmother and not Kai’s who tells the stories. Number two, Kai does not declare his love for Grace so much as demand at her grandmother’s graveside that she marry him. And number three, the Snow Queen does very little enticing; Kai’s pretty much packed when she gets there.
So, yeah. Once again, pretty misleading. And I’ll say with full disclosure that I didn’t go into this week with high hopes – I read this book a few years ago when it came out and I was not impressed. Now, it should be noted that I read it not having read the original, but only having the Hallmark movie to go off of, so what I was really upset about was that Kai and Grace didn’t end up together (spoilers).
However, now that I have read Anderson’s original story and have learned to think about these stories more critically, that didn’t bother me in the slightest this time through. But don’t worry – plenty of new things cropped up to bother me, so let’s just jump right in.
We open with a typical Cameron Dokey opening about some aspect of the nature of storytelling – this one deals with the fact that, at any given moment, thousands of stories are being told all at once, all at once, all overlapping. It’s a neat idea, I guess, but honestly, for the first time with Dokey, I don’t really get the point of it, as this isn’t really an idea she explores over the course of the novel.
So we move on, then, to the legend of the Winter Child. Long ago there was a Queen who loved her husband, but grew to fear the day when her beauty would fade, because she believed that on that day, his love for her would disappear as well. And so, instead of doing the sensible thing and, you know, talking to her husband about this fear, the Queen shut herself up in a tower with her mirror, examining hr face day in and day out for the slightest sign of fading beauty. We all know where this is going, right?
Yeah, she refuses to see her husband for weeks on end, so guess what? He starts to get perturbed with her. And when she is so preoccupied with her looks that she doesn’t notice the North Wind snatching her infant daughter and carrying her out the window. This makes her husband even angrier, understandably. He confronts the Queen, forcing her to see what her short-sightedness has done, and in that moment, her mirror bursts, and she is killed. Shards of the mirror are carried throughout the world on the winds, entering the hearts of certain people and changing them. One shard also pierces the infant’s heart.
The child is forever changed because she was touched by the North Wind – she has now become a Winter Child, which means that, on her 16th birthday, she’ll stop aging until she can right the wrong of her parents, which in this case, means going about and finding all the people with shards of mirror in their hearts and healing them, which she apparently has the power to do for others, but not herself for reasons of plot convenience.
Basically, what this legend does is turn the Winter Child – Deirdre – into a more sympathetic character than she is in the original. Which I have no problem with, understand. The mythology Dokey has created is pretty interesting, even, but my problem with Deirdre is her flatness. She’s not interesting. She’s very bland, and this paragon of princesshood, not to the extent of some other princesses we’ve read this year, but bad enough that it got on my nerves.
And the thing is, she’s got shard of mirror in her heart, but it doesn’t seem to mean anything! It doesn’t affect her personality, it doesn’t make her cold or paranoid or fearful or anything. It doesn’t change her, which is irritating because that’s the whole point of the mirror, right?
Anyway, then the story shifts to Grace and Kai, and a portrayal of their childhoods in which they’ve grown up hearing these stories of the Winter Child from Grace’ grandmother. And jumping perspectives aside (which, believe me, well get to), these characters just didn’t quite work for me. Well, actually, Kai’s character didn’t quite work for me. Grace was fine.
But Kai clashes with himself in a mystifying way: he’s a homebody, always focused on what’s right in front of him, yet he jumps up to follow the Winter Child without a second thought. He’s a watchmaker and very concerned with details and the whys of things and how they work, yet he and not Grace believes that the Winter Child exists with all his heart. He’s grounded and down to earth, and yet, he’s completely unconcerned with everyday logistics. He’s a walking contradiction, and it bugs me because it reads like he’s just very poorly drawn.
But anyway, he and Grace have grown up at each other’s sides – they live next door and they’ve been best friends their whole lives. Grace has never been content with her life – she’s always looking toward the horizon, wanting more. And then, when Kai and Grace are sixteen, a fever sweeps through the town, and Kai’s mother and Grace’s grandmother are among those who die. This means that Kai and Grace are now alone in the world, and on the way home from the funerals, Grace confesses to being scared about the future now, and Kai thinks this would be a great time to say, “Marry me.” It’s not a request, it’s not a question, and there’s no conversation about it. He just says it out of the blue, and then gets all upset with Grace reacts poorly.
This scene really irritates me. Kai says, “Marry me.” Grace, shocked says, “What?” Kai repeats himself, and when Grace is still silent, unable to process this change of events, Kai gets impatient with her, saying that this is the logical next step, she must have figured that out by now, and it’s what their guardians would have wanted. And when Grace comes back with the very reasonable question, “What about what we want?” Kai gets all huffy, and pulls the, “Oh, fine, I guess you don’t love me enough,” card.
Not cool, Kai. Not cool at all. Because first of all, you have yet to make any declaration or reference to love. That was not part of your proposal. So you don’t get to play that card and try to guilt Grace into saying yes.
And what really bothers me is that the way the scene is written, it’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to be on Kai’s side. We’re supposed to think that Grace is being unreasonable and hurtful and pushing Kai away, but you know what? No. I’m very firmly in Grace’s court here. If you and I have never discussed a joint future together, and you know that what you and I want out of life is very different, and in your declaration, you say nothing about being in love with me? Yeah, I’m gonna turn you down flat, I don’t care what kind of history we have together. And that’s not even what Grace did! She just asked for time to process all of this because she thinks Kai is moving a bit too fast here, and you know what? She’s absolutely right!
But Kai is all hurt and wounded and petty about it, and so when the Winter Child shows up at his house that night, he doesn’t even give a second thought to leaving Grace behind to go with Deirdre. And no, just to be clear, in this version, Kai does not have a sliver of mirror in his heart or his eye to excuse, in part, his actions. Neither is he seduced away or tricked into leaving. He’s just a total dick. And before you say that maybe it didn’t occur to him that going with the Winter Child would mean leaving Grace behind, no. She asks him point blank as they travel if he’s sorry he left her behind, and he says no. The girl he supposedly loves with all his heart. The one he proposed to. Not sorry he left in the middle of the night without a goodbye or a note or explanation of any kind. Dick.
And Deirdre! She pisses me off in this scene too, because she happened to overhear Grace and Kai during all this, and she gets filled with this righteous indignation at Grace for daring to push away love when it’s offered, and I’m sorry, bitch. You don’t know Grace, and you don’t know the situation. You heard one conversation out of context. I don’t care if you’re a mythical immortal; you don’t get to judge her.
Sorry. I feel strongly.
Anyway, the next morning, Grace sees that Kai is gone, and immediately figures out that he must have left with the Winter Child. Once he’s gone, she realizes that she does love him, and she can’t let him disappear without mending the quarrel between them, and so, after making the necessary arrangements, she sets out after him.
How does Grace know Kai has gone away with the Winter Child, who before this moment, Grace fully believed to be a fictional character of legend? What, that’s really a question you want to ask? C’mon, the author didn’t! Why should you?
Seriously, we get no explanation. Grace just says that her “heart just knew,” citing as further evidence the fact that she can see Kai’s footprints heading away, and get this, they disappear into the horizon. . . . I'm sorry, don’t all footprints do that? Because the earth is round? If you stand looking at a trail of any kind, isn’t it, by definition, going to go off into the horizon?
Let’s just move on.
The events of Grace’s journey happen out of order, but I understand why Dokey made the change. It flows better for Grace to meet the robbers first, then the old lady with the garden. So, yeah, she’s captured by the robbers, and she makes friends with the robber girl as per the original, and the robber girl helps Grace escape in exchange for Grace helping her escape by giving her the knowledge she needs to start a new life in civilization. Grace also takes away with her a falcon from the robbers’ camp, who decides to follow her rather than stay with his old masters.
As Grace makes her way away from the robbers, she stumbles and falls into a river, and is saved from drowning by an old woman who fishes her out of the river, and cares for her in a small cottage. But, like in the story, the woman wants to keep Grace for her very own and make her forget about everything else.
While Grace is being captured by robbers and kept captive by the old woman, Kai and Deirdre are back up north at Deirdre’s kingdom, and . . . yeah, I really don’t care about this story line. I don’t. I do not find either of these characters to be likeable, and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I don’t understand why Deirdre showed herself to Kai in the first place, since he’s untouched by the mirror and so isn’t one of the hearts that she has to heal. I don’t understand why she offered to take him back to her kingdom and set up as the Queen there after all this time. Has she finished her task? Found all the broken hearts? I don’t get it. And I don’t care. For some reason, Deirdre has to leave with her steward, and they put Kai in charge of the kingdom to give him something to do? Yeah, I don’t know.
Back in Grace’s storyline, she gets free of the old lady with the falcon’s help, and then we just skip over the third obstacle from the original story entirely, and suddenly, Grace is there, at Deirdre’s palace, and Kai meets her at the gate with a “It’s about time you got here,” and I just HATE HIM!
I think my real irritation stems from this – I don’t know why Grace went on this journey. In the original, Kay changed because of the shard of mirror, everyone got fed up with him, then the Queen whisks him away and everyone but Gerda believes him dead. She goes on her quest to prove that he isn’t dead, to figure out what was wrong with him and heal it.
But here? Kai just left. No one questioned it. No one believed him dead. He was juts gone and no one really seemed to care except Grace. And even then, he disappeared, yeah, but she had no reason to believe him in danger. She just wanted to clear the air. Which, okay, yeah, but because Kai was never in danger, there were never any stakes, and so what Grace has gone through seems wildly disproportionate to what Kai has gone through, and so for him to be standing there at the end of it, expecting her with an air of “good! You went on your life-changing quest and got some character growth, just what I’ve been waiting for!” makes me want to punch him in the face.
This time through? I’m glad Kai doesn’t end up with Grace. She deserves a hell of a lot better. Deirdre returns and there are the usual obligatory misunderstandings between the three, and Grace has to force Kai and Deirdre to acknowledge their love, and then all of a sudden, Deirdre’s heart is mended, not because of Kai’s love, but because of Grace’s heart being the match to her own? It’s abrupt and I don’t care, so I didn’t pay that much attention.
And then Grace says that next she’s going to go see the world and travel into the unknown on her own and be happy with that life, and then suddenly, the falcon transforms into a man! Who’s in love with Grace! And she’s . . . in love with him, too? And he was under a spell to be a falcon until someone chose to be with him without understanding what they were choosing, which happened when Grace confessed preferring the unknown . . .?
Yeah, it’s super unnecessary, and a bit upsetting, honestly. Why did Grace need a phoned-in love interest? Why couldn’t she just have gone off to have adventures on her own? Why did we need to fix her up with someone, and under such . . . questionable circumstances?
And then Deirdre uses some leftover Winter Child magic that I’m not sure how she has anymore given that she’s no longer a Winter Child, having fulfilled her task, and grants Grace to ability to ly once a month just ‘cause? And we’re done.
Cameron Dokey, I love you, and usually you hit these out of the park, but this one? Definitely not your finest offering. I disliked this book the second time through even more than I did the first time through, for entirely different reasons. Also, completely unrelated to anything, but if you’re going to so consciously and deliberately echo Anderson’s story structure, you really ought to make sure your story fits into his seven-book arc, though admittedly, that may just be my love of symmetry talking.
Reigned it in? . . . It’s really hard for me to make a call on this. I mean, yes. The novel is much more self-contained than Anderson’s original. While I didn’t particularly like the story that was being told, I do have to acknowledge that at least it was the same story going on consistently. So, okay. A point. But a grudging one.
Explore and define the relationship between Gerda and Kay? I do appreciate that Dokey had the guts to go and make theirs a platonic relationship in the end, and I liked that they both came to that conclusion. I really wish Kai as well as Grace had apologized for his behavior really at all, but that’s a different conversation. I may not like Kai very much, but this was a well-painted and multi-dimensional friendship, even if the same can’t be said for half of its characters.
Define the Snow Queen? . . . Yes? Dokey didn’t want her to be a villain, I get that. But while the legend of how she was created was interesting to me, the character herself was decidedly not. I really disliked Deirdre, and she was flat and colorless (no pun intended) and not done very well. So, half a point.
Give meaning to the journey? There was never any urgency driving the quest. There was never anything at stake. Yeah, Grace grew and changed, and I appreciated that, but that wasn’t really a result of the quest itself. Half point.
Basically, I didn’t like Kai, I didn’t like Deirdre, the ending was abrupt, awkward, painful, and cheesy, the pacing of the whole novel was not well done, there were no stakes, the perspective shifts were jarring, the voices weren’t distinct enough to be easily differentiated, and the message was questionable. Read it if you want, but please don’t judge Dokey on this novel. She’s usually much better.