CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 2. . . .September 11, 2009
The Winter Drey. (The Trilogy of the Tree, Part II).
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2009.
221 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Up in the darkness, Rolf could make out the tiniest glint of an eye. How could this tiny creature claim he was too big for the world? It was a wonder.
"You think I'm too young," said the squirrel. "But aren't you also too young? Isn't this something we have in common? Is this not why we should go together?"
Go together where?
"You can trust me," said the squirrel. "My family goes way back in these parts. So does yours. Way back. And you and I have lived here under the same roof for a very long time."
"No," said Rolf, who had heard the day this squirrel was born.
And then he realized he had spoken out loud. Now they were having a conversation.
"Quibble quibble," said the squirrel, who seemed unsurprised, as if they'd been talking the whole time. "So I don't know short and long. If my days have been short, I've got nothing to compare them to. I think they're long. There's nothing longer than a day. Except maybe a night. I've heard tell of longer times, likes weeks and months and years. But I don't believe in them. The days and nights I've had so far have given me time enough to learn everything there is to know."
"I doubt that," thought Rolf.
Picking up where the first book, The Feathered Cloak, concluded, The Winter Drey switches focus from the plucky girl Freya to her younger brother, Rolf. After the tumultuous and perhaps even miraculous events of the day, Rolf lies in his bed yearning for sleep to overtake him. And fretting. Fretting over many things but perhaps mostly about Freya. Truth be told, Rolf was somewhat jealous of his sister. But more than that, he was worried. Worried that the amazing changes that had occurred in Freya this day might create an unbridgeable gap between them.
Then Rolf meets Rat-A-Task, an energetic squirrel living in the rafters above Rolf's bed. Rat-A-Task is preparing to embark on a mission, and a young boy like Rolf could be exactly the perfect companion for him on his journey, he thinks. For Rolf, though just a boy, happens to be a giant, and a giant could prove to be very useful indeed. The persuasive Rat-A-Task finally convinces Rolf to join him by telling the boy that Freya is going to leave that very night. Not wanting to wait around to be abandoned by the sister he adores, Rolf allows the feisty squirrel to lead him away from his home into the great unknown. And he hopes in his heart that he has found himself a true and noble friend just as Freya had found in Morton the falcon.
With Rat-A-Task's guidance, Rolf transports the two of them to the squirrel's destination: the magnificent Tree of the World. And truly, it is a wondrous place! Rolf feels at peace with himself and the world as he nestles in the boughs of the tree, and there, too, he makes a very special friend. One tiny leaf named Idrun strikes up a conversation with the lonely boy, and a precious friendship is born. But Rat-A-Task has other plans for Rolf after an encounter with the Dreki who lives in the depths of the tree. The Dreki has given Rat-A-Task his instructions, and now the squirrel has a new project to undertake, he and the boy-giant together.
Meanwhile, these two are not the only wanderers. The sons and daughters of Erik Blood-Ax have watched their beloved father leave Norway, abandoning the land that he loves into the hands of its new Christian king. Bursting with the enthusiasm of youth and of their strong belief in the ancient gods of Norway, they boldly set off on a mission of their own. Their mission will ultimately bring them into contact with the poet Egil and The Beaky (a man who had once served their father), and eventually with Rolf and Rat-A-Task, too. And as these three separate stories converge, young Rolf learns many lessons about truth and forgiveness, friendship and self-sacrifice and about loss and letting go.
Like the preceding book, The Winter Drey reads like a traditional fairytale with a cast of fanciful characters whose collective adventures combine to form an entertaining albeit somewhat meandering tale. Readers will feel a sense of protectiveness towards Rolf, the vulnerable and trusting boy-giant, and will be relieved and satisfied as he begins to come into his own. However, the writing style, though well-suited to the atmosphere that the story evokes, is perhaps a little too rambling to hold the interest of all but the more dedicated young readers, and many will struggle to follow the three separate storylines as they develop. The touching friendship between Rolf and Idrun is one of the more compelling aspects of the story and could perhaps have been a more fully developed part of the plot. While some readers may be interested to learn more about the characters they've been introduced to thus far, they won't likely be clamoring for the third book.
Recommended with reservations
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles Bookstore in Halifax, NS.
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