Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: Winter's Shadow, by M.J. Hearle

Title: Winter's Shadow
Author: M.J. Hearle
Format: Trade Paperback, 432 pages
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publication Date: June 1, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Mesmerizing, mysterious, and utterly compelling, this debut novel by Australian author M.J. Hearle totally immerses the reader in a strange, supernatural reality that is beautifully depicted.  

I had been trying to get the book for months, but the shipping charges from Australia were too unreasonable.  Finally, however, I was able to buy it at a great website I discovered.  When the book arrived, I delightedly plunged into the story.  

The heroine of the novel, Winter Adams, is a seventeen-year-old high school student living in the town of Hagan's Bluff.  After an eerie prologue set in Paris, in the year 1878, Winter's story opens, at the dilapidated ruin known as Pilgrim's Lament, once a thriving church.  She has an assignment to take some photographs of the church's interior, as well as exterior, for her school newspaper. 

Once inside the church, Winter becomes intent on photographing a broken, but beautiful, stained-glass window.  When she positions herself in front of the window, which looks out upon a graveyard, she sees...him.  His profile is partially visible to her, so she notices right away that he is an utterly beautiful young man.  Instinctively, she takes a picture of the handsome stranger, and, when he turns fully toward her, his eyes locking with hers, she becomes so nervous that she stumbles backward, away from the window, but right into a rickety old church column.  Showers of dust from the ceiling cascade around her.  Suddenly, a heavy beam starts to fall toward her... 

She awakens in his arms, outside the church, with no memory of how she got there.  And she is captivated by his masculine beauty, his emerald eyes...  Once her confusion has cleared somewhat, she suddenly realizes that he has actually saved her life. 

His name is Blake Duchamp, and Winter has never seen him in town before.

The setting of this novel has everything a paranormal romance fan could want -- mystery, suspense, supernatural beings, that all-encompassing Gothic well as a story of forbidden love.  It's all been done before, some readers might object.  Well, the ingredients I've mentioned are typically part of a paranormal romance.  That's the nature of the genre, after all.  The important point is what the author does with those ingredients, what makes a particular novel so captivating that the reader is unwilling to come up for air until the story is over.  Hearle takes those ingredients and uses them to weave a tale that will simply not let go until the very end.

This is also a tale full of symbolism and metaphor.  The young adult genre is usually considered to be light fare by most adult readers, but a cursory reading of  currently bestselling titles should dispel that notion at once.  Underneath a superficially "juvenile" story, adult themes are dealt with, often with deeper implications being involved.  Winter's Shadow is a case in point.  The broken stained-glass window, for instance, is a very appropriate metaphor for Blake himself.  He is gorgeous and very alluring, yet there is something broken about him, something inherently flawed -- or so it would seem.  As the story unfolds, we see his true self shine through that apparent flaw, just as the sun shines through a stained-glass window, even a broken one.  We also see that he is, indeed, psychologically broken.  But then, so is Winter.  The broken window metaphor thus encompasses her, as well.  The allusion of a flawed diamond comes to mind here.  Don't we often, in real life, encounter people who are at first sight, "flawed", only to discover their inner beauty as time passes?  While this might sound excessively romantic and idealistic to some, I can't stress this enough.  I am, after all, a hopelessly romantic idealist...

In any novel or short story, the characters must be interesting.  Blake and Winter certainly are, in a very endearing sort of way.  They both hide painful pasts, thus sharing a psychic bond.  They are both not quite sure of themselves.  Winter is the shy, introverted type of girl who has not had much luck with boys, in contrast to her bubbly friend, Jasmine, who has already weathered several relationships.  Blake is the solitary hero who has just bought a house rumored to be haunted.  Winter soon finds out that something scary rattles away in the attic...

The romance between Blake and Winter builds up slowly, with lots of suspense and teen angst.  When it blooms, it is both tender and fraught with danger.  Both care deeply about the other, although Blake's love for Winter is most strongly revealed towards the end of the novel.  His greatest concern is to keep her safe, as hers is to defend him to anyone who might present any obstacles to their love.  Since this is a young adult novel, there are no heated sex scenes, but Hearle does convey the intensity of their love in other, equally effective ways.  The passion is present nevertheless!

Hearle has obvious influences from such Gothic masterpieces as Jane Eyre, but again, he uses them for his own purposes.  One of the book's strong points is the mythological world created by the author.  It provides a very original framework for his story, as well as fascinating speculation on the delicate balance between life and death.

I was just as interested in the flashback chapters -- which continue the story first introduced in the prologue -- as I was in the main story.  They provide very important background information about Blake.  Rather than being mere interruptions, they add immeasurably to the main story, as well as making a great parallel story in themselves.  Through them, the reader discovers just what sort of being Blake is, and how truly dangerous he could be to Winter, if he chose to allow his supernatural nature to assert itself. 

Throughout the novel, the brooding, rather oppressive atmosphere continually contrasts with and intrudes upon that mundane reality we are all too familiar with -- the daily routines of life, such as getting ready for school and work, dealing with inquisitive relatives (such as Lucy, Winter's sister), etc.  Towards the end of the novel, it appears as if all the oppression has lifted, as if "reality" has, indeed, won, as life seems to move on...

Nothing could be further from the truth.   There are, instead, many unanswered questions at the end, which I must say was certainly mind-blowing, as well as totally unexpected.  Since the sequel, Winter's Light, is set for publication in May, 2012, I am very eager to find those answers!  Indeed, I am waiting with bated breath.  Hearle has already delighted me once, and I'm sure he won't fail to do so again, for the story of Blake Duchamp and Winter Adams has now joined the ranks, in my mind, of other memorable fictional couples, such as Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre, as well as Edward Cullen and Bella Swan!


M.J. Hearle

To purchase this book at the lowest price available so far, just click HERE!! 


  1. How can anyone not want to read this book after reading your review! wow ! It sounds like an amazing book .

  2. Oh, thank you!! Yes, I absolutely LOVED this novel! I tried for months to find it at a reasonable price, but couldn't. With the shipping costs, I would have paid a minimum of $40.00 for it! Finally, while googling one day, I found a website where I could buy it for $18.46! So I went for it, and it sure lived up to all of my expectations!

    Thanks again for the compliment!! : )

  3. Thank you so much for the review. I can honestly say Maria, it is one of the most intelligent and well articulated ones I've read. You've made my day!

    M. J.

  4. Oh, M.J., you're more than welcome!! This book simply took my breath away! It totally deserves the five stars I've given it, and you deserve to be congratulated on writing such a wonderful first novel!! I'm so glad I made your day!!

    Also, thank you for complimenting my review!!! I'm very honored. I love to do a thorough analysis of every book I read. And this novel has a lot of food for thought, believe me!

    I greatly appreciate your visit and wonderful comment!!! Thanks again!!! : )

  5. Great review. Looking forward to reading the book. :)

  6. Thank you, Oh! Yes, this is a TERRIFIC book! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, when you get to it!

    Happy Friday, and have a GREAT weekend!! : )

  7. am looking forward to reading this book.

    sounds interesting



  8. Is the first time a hear of this book and sounds really interesting. Great review!

  9. wow sounds awesoem and i just love thatc over cant wait to read it tyf or the review it was awesome

  10. I heard about this book awhile back and I have been wanting to read it ever since. Thanks for the great review.


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