In the first review M.J has created a snobby literary critic named Gavin Thoughtpriss.
As the Editor in Chief of The Monocled Gentleman I, Sir Gavin Thoughtpriss, have had the misfortune of reading thousands of appalling novels. Some were simply poorly written, others dealt with subjects so tawdry and morally corrupt that I could barely bring myself to finish them. Few novels though have raised my irk as the one I bring to your attention today, dear readers. It is called Winters Shadow, and is authored by a literary terrorist named M. J. Hearle.
Upon glancing at the florid cover (which by itself managed to conjure some entirely disagreeable emotions), I was immediately suspiciously of this Hearle. What type of author chooses to hide behind an initial and to what end? Ive never trusted authors I cannot call by the first name. It is a rule that has held me in good stead over the years and one, after finishing Hearles opus, I shall not be abandoning soon.
First, let us talk about the language. Winters Shadow, is referred to as a paranormal, a genre Im sure, dear reader, you skirt just as widely as I do when visiting your local bookseller. It is a singularly repellent offshoot of fantasy writing, one that fosters occult interest in young, impressionable minds. Most paranormals (not that I would ever lower myself to purchase one for pleasure these insights are gathered from fanning through the pages of those on the local library shelf) are distinguished by an exceedingly clumsy style. The prose is generally stained with purple descriptive imagery much attention spent on describing the flawless physical perfection on whomsoever the lead character desires. The lexicon of these paranormal authors seems painfully limited with some words being repeated over and over again to the point of redundancy. The word Adonis is one such word. Every man seems to be an Adonis in these books.
Hearle, however, has written Winters Shadow with an irritating level of sophistication. Or should I say a veneer of sophistication, for no real writer would ever deign to address such base material. Nevertheless, care seems to have been taken in establishing atmosphere, the dialogue borders on naturalistic and most paragraphs are constructed with at least a nod to classical form. In short, the book reads like a book, instead of the penny dreadful I knew it to be. This, I can assure you, dear reader, angered me to no end. If Hearle wished to write pulp than he should have adopted the appropriate pulpish style. Reaching for something more is not only vaguely pathetic, but insulting to those of us blessed with the literary faculties to recognise such reaching. Know your place, Hearle! Swill merchants serve swill, not wine.
This infuriatingly Icarus-like predilection of Hearle is evident in the books narrative as well. After the first few chapters I was confident, in fact I was very nearly delighted to find Hearle lapsing into cliché. His tale of a young woman, Winter Adams, falling in love with a handsome, mysterious stranger, Blake something-or-rather is one weve seen recycled innumerable times before. Veritably, it is a staple of the genre. I was so relieved to find Hearle following the expected patterns that my anger began to ebb. An insolence in language may be forgiven if the story conforms to well worn conventions. I was fully confident that handsome Blake would be revealed as a vampire or werewolf or angel or fairy or some other such nonsense and the plot would roll towards an obvious conclusion.
But, no! Again Hearle displays frustrating ambition by introducing a completely new supernatural mythology. This mythology is rife with sordid invention new worlds, new creatures with the obligatory convoluted new rules to govern them. Such arrogance! At least have enough respect for your audience to give them what they expect. What they deserve! More vampires and shirtless werewolves. Or troubled angels and their like. Not these Malfaerie, Demori and Skivers creations seemingly ripped straight from a lunatic menagerie.
If these fresh additions to the supernatural canon werent enough, Hearle decides to create his own reading on the philosophical concepts of causality and fate. Yes, you read that correctly. Not content with re-writing the rule book when it comes to monsters, Hearle believes his paranormal is the ideal forum to tackle these not insignificant topics. Thus, we are presented with such outlandish notions as Occulumas (glowing eye lights which serve as battery readings for the soul), and life paths. These inappropriate heady musings are given so much weight in the novel that it became clear to me that the authors intention was to try and use this pulp about a doomed supernatural romance to offer a serious discourse on mortality.
In this humble writers opinion, it is one thing to overreach with ones material, to employ nuance and craft when it is entirely unnecessary it is quite another thing altogether, to smuggle intellectual concerns within such a crass and tawdry package. I should have stopped reading, if only to spare myself further aggravation but Hearle uses a con artists trick a method of leaving his chapters hanging so the reader is compelled to turn the page. To my immense shame, I finished the novel in one sitting. That Hearle should draw me away from other worthier pursuits is unforgivable.
Before beginning this critique, I carefully considered the sense in covering this novel at all. Wouldnt it be better simply to ignore it and hope the rest of the world did so as well? And then I happened to stumble across one of those internet chatting rooms whilst searching for a rare copy of Margaret Wainwright's Guide to Geranium Cultivation and was mortified to find Hearles book being discussed. Worse still, it was being considered favourably. Further investigation proved that Winters Shadow, had in fact, managed to draw a meagre but devoted following a following that appeared to be growing. This must be stopped! Hearle must be stopped! Already, there are rumours of a sequel, Winters Light, being published in May this year a prospect that chills me to the core... but I am working myself into a state. I apologise, dear reader, if I have lapsed into hysterics during this review but I assure you my response was entirely genuine. Winters Shadow is reprehensible in its complete lack of self-awareness. Should you see it on the shelf march right past it. Do not spare the cover a second look. For Gods sake do not open it! Otherwise, I shall not be responsible for the turmoil and upset that befalls you. You have been warned.
Yours SincerelySir Gavin Thoughtpriss
In the second review we are introduced to teenage blogger Cherie.
Welcome back to Cherie’s Blood Crush my blog dedicated to cataloguing the crushworthy guys of the paranormal world. I haven’t got a vampire hottie for you today but I do have...well...something else for you to sink your teeth into...he he he (laughs mysteriously) His name is Blake Duchamp and he’s the brooding hunk of supernatural hotness featured in M. J. Hearle’s Winter’s Shadow. I don’t really want to give away exactly what Blake is because part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was the mystery surrounding him. Suffice to say, Blake isn’t anything you’ve ever read about before. In fact there’s lots of stuff in Winter’s Shadow that’s new – I’m talking new monsters people, new worlds, plenty of new awesome weirdness...but I’m getting ahead of myself.
This book has been sitting on my ‘To Read’ pile for the past couple of months staring at me with its big beautiful cover but I hadn’t picked it up because I’ve been trying to get through all two and half million Vampire Academy books. (Seriously, every time I think I’ve reached the end of the series another one is released. Richelle Mead must write in her sleep!)
And then I found out that the sequel to Winter’s Shadow, called Winter’s Light, is coming out in May this year so I figured I better read this one quick smart. The first thing I was surprised to learn was that it was an Aussie YA. I mean the story isn’t set in Australia or anything (at least I don’t think it is? The country’s identity seems purposefully glossed over so it might be) but the author, M. J. Hearle, is an Aussie. The second thing I was surprised to learn was that M. J. Hearle is a guy. The story is told mainly from the point of view of Winter Adams who is a seventeen year-old girl and it’s a little scary how Hearle has managed to nail that particular voice. Winter could easily be one of my friends (or even me sometimes!). Hearle must have had some sisters growing up or something.
So, let’s talk about the story. It’s set in the fictional town of Hagan’s Bluff and mainly follows Winter, though it does flashback every now and again to Europe in the 1800’s and another character named Madeleine Bonnaire. At first I was a little confused as to what Madeleine’s story had to do with Winter’s but by the end it all comes together. Anyway, the core story begins with Winter in the midst of her final year of school. She’s struggling with her grades because her parents have just died and she’s feeling generally lost. Part of the reason for her angst is because she lives with with her big sister, Lucy and the two of them have kind of prickly relationship. Lucy is super–overprotective (um...yes, I can relate!). Oh, and Winter’s got this great fiery friend named Jasmine who reminds me of my friend Rosalyn (please don’t be mad, Ros!).
To improve her grades, Winter takes a photography assignment to document this creepy old church called Pilgrim’s Lament, for the school newspaper. While she’s taking photos inside the church she sees through one of the windows a mysterious guy standing in the graveyard. This is Blake and, as you’ve probably guessed, he and Winter are destined to have something of a romantic/dramatic future together. That aspect of the story more or less follows the predictable paranormal model which isn’t to say it’s boring or cliched just that you sort of expect Winter to fall in love with Blake and of course he doesn’t want her close to him because he has a dark secret etc. It’s still fun reading the romance though and it’s never annoying or cringeworthy which I sometimes find in paranormals. Mainly because Blake and Winter seem a little more real than the cardboard cutouts that usually stand in for these sorts of characters. They’re just not Bella & Edward clones.
Soon enough, Winter discovers Blake isn’t exactly human (and wow - what a way to find out!) and she also learns that there’s a whole other secret world hidden behind the one we know. This is when the book really starts picking up – I started turning the pages so fast my fingers burnt. Up until this point the story is really creepy and atmospheric and I was loving just soaking in the gothic mood of it all but then it turns into this tense thriller, with car chases, and scary (and I mean really SCARY – like ‘you wouldn’t give this to your younger sister or brother’ scary) sequences with grinning soul stealing monsters and cats (oh did I mention this book is full of cats? I think Hearle might be obsessed with them) and other kinds of nightmare fuel.
Luckily, the tender love story between Blake and Winter anchors the whole thing and stops it spinning too far off into supernatural craziness (not that that would be a bad thing as I was kind of willing to go wherever Hearle took me). And then it gets to the end and well...I won’t say anything but let’s just say I’m pretty damn happy there’s a sequel cause otherwise I might have been sending Hearle some emails because I NEED TO KNOW how things work out with Winter and Blake. I’m invested now. Oh and he owes me a new box of tissues because I went through like three boxes when I finished the last paragraph. Seriously, it left me feeling very sad and wistful (in the best possible way).
So yeah, Blake Duchamp welcome to the club. You are officially Blood Crush-worthy. Hopefully you won’t feel out of place with all the vampires, werewolves and angels. If the other boys are mean to you it’s only because they’re jealous. You’re one of a kind and I love you all the more for it. Bring on Winter’s Light!
Want to find out more about M.J and The Winter Tales? Check out www.mjhearle.com. Follow M.J on Twitter! twitter.com/Mjhearle
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So who wants to win a signed copy of Winter's Shadow? In the comments tell us which review you like the most along with your email address. This giveaway is only open to West Australian residents, Giveaway ends 31st May!