Our book of the month for September (yes, we managed to restrain ourselves to just one this time!) is the extraordinary A Winter’s Promise, the first volume of the Mirror Visitor Quartet by French author Christelle Dabos. Already a publishing sensation in France – where, on top of being a #1 bestseller it has won the Gallimard Jeunesse-RTL-Télérama First Novel Competition and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire – it is destined for great things in the UK.
The world Dabos has created is hugely rich and imaginative, mesmerising and intricate – made up of floating islands, known as arks. Each ark is watched over by an immortal and all-powerful family spirit whose descendants possess powers distinct to their home ark.
On the ark of Anima, over which the spirit Artemis presides, people have the ability to control certain objects. Ophelia is a gifted young Anamist, with a rare aptitude for reading the histories of objects by touching them, and the even rarer ability to travel through mirrors. Quiet, serious and completely indifferent to anything young women of her age are supposed to be interested in; she is happiest working in her museum of artefacts and avoiding the banalities of her family.
But having already refused to marry several potential suitors she has no choice but accept when the family elders make a match for her on the distant Pole ark. When her fiancé, Thorn, arrives to escort her back to her new home she is stunned, not only by his hostile manner, but by the fact that he seems to be even more opposed to the match than she is, and the Pole is even colder and more inhospitable than Thorn.
The court at Citaceleste, the Pole’s capital, is a hotbed of infighting and devious machinations where factions of the family vie for the attention of their irascible and unpredictable spirit, Farouk, and no one can be trusted. Ophelia slowly comes to realise that her presence on Pole is more calculated than she’d been led to believe: she is part of a plot to ingratiate the Dragon clan with Farouk by using her family power to give him the thing he craves above all else…
A fantasy novel that, like all the best writing for YA audiences, is equally appealing to ‘grown-ups’, A Winter’s Promise has all the makings of a classic of the genre: inspired and grandly vivid world-building; a subtle but tough and complex female protagonist; sophisticated and thrilling political intrigue, and manipulative but alluring antagonists. Dabos’ writing has been compared to Philip Pullman, Margaret Rogerson, Cornelia Funke, V.E. Schwab, N.K. Jemisin and JK Rowling, but also calls to mind the best of Studio Ghibli, Ursuala Le Guin and Diane Wynne-Jones.
Ahead of the book’s release on 27 September, here is some of the pre-publication press:
“Highly original and intricately imagined, this is world-building on an epic scale.”
— The Bookseller
“The Mirror Visitor stands on the same shelf as Harry Potter.”
“As mesmerising as a waking dream, A Winter’s Promise is certain to ensnare you in its unique, dizzyingly magical world of treachery, illusion, and intrigue.”
— Margaret Rogerson, author of An Enchantment of Ravens
“Vibrant characters, inventive worldbuilding, and a sophisticated plot.”
— Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Not a drop of mastery is lost in translation.”
— Kirkus Reviews
A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos; translated by Hildegarde Serle is published by Europa Editions on 27 September
(9781609454838, h/b, £14.99)