Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.

Who: Kate Milford, author of awesome Historical/Fantastical Middle Grade and Young Adult books.

Recent Work: The incredible The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands, both works of extraordinary quality and two of the best books Ana has read this year.

Please give a warm round of applause to Kate, everybody!

Every year right around now I dig out an old paperback copy of The Dark is Rising that I’ve had for ages upon ages. Sometimes I go on to re-read the whole series, but not always. Mostly I revel in the first half of the second book, when the snow lays deep on everything, changing Will’s English countryside into a place out of time in the weeks leading up to Twelfth Night. I’m always rooting for Will, of course, but I’m always a little sad when the snow starts to melt, just as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe loses something for me when the White Witch has to cut her reindeer loose because Narnia has launched itself into a rapid and miraculous thaw.

I’ve always been a sucker for what I’ve come to think of as midwinter fantasies. Part of this is that I’m just as big a sucker for winter. Like Will Stanton, I always dream of snow on my birthday. I love snow. I love snow at night. I love the way string lights look under it. I love the hush, the strangeness of even the most familiar places, the way that shadows fall and footsteps crunch, the heaviness of the sky and the unmistakable smell of snow before it falls. (I don’t love snow the next day in New York City, when you have to go free your car from it, but whatever. We can’t have everything.)

I understand all the reasons why the turning point of winter fantasies comes with the breaking of the cold and the turn toward spring. Winter is a season of apparent death, when even the sun seems to need renewal, and we as humans have deep and instinctual responses to the season. We may never have had to fear starvation or wonder if our community would make it through to the spring, but our ancestors did. The shortening of days and the dropping of the temperature meant the onset of very real threats. In fantasy, where so often the story comes down to the clash of good and evil, winter logically aligns with the bad guys. I get it.

But winter holds a different kind of magic for me, a magic without alignment. The kind of magic that turns the real world into something other, something wildly, perhaps dangerously, beautiful. The kind that reveals things that might otherwise never be visible. There is the stunning chaos of white on the wind, the sharp icy edges of things so unlike the softness of the deep piles of drifting snow, the strangeness of the winter landscape…who needs a wardrobe? Winter is its own otherworld.

And the folklore junkie in me loves the endless lore that surrounds midwinter, the solstice, Christmas, the turning of the new year…there’s so much there to play with, if you’re inclined to be interested in that kind of thing. And that lore is wild, anarchic, carnivalesque, alight with torch and bonfire, wreathed in holly and ivy. With its many faces masked and jingle bells wrapped about its knees, it spins itself dizzy, ribbons streaming in the wind, chanting auguries and singing of ancient things. It’s Herne the Hunter coming to scatter the forces of the Dark with the Wild Hunt on Twelfth Night.

I want more of that world, always, and it’s always a little sad for me that it has to melt for the good guys to win. After all, a wintry world in the hands of a good writer is fabulous. Lucy emerging from the coats-and-pines and trotting through the cold with Mr. Tumnus to take tea in the cozy cave where she is so nearly kidnapped, Will being given the first of the Signs of Power by his neighbor under the frigid, snow-laden sky so full of the threat of the coming Dark…there’s more to these books than simply happening to be set during a frost. Winter lives in them, icy marrow in the very bones of these tales. Reading them is like breathing deep of the cold.

When I’m lucky enough to have a snowy night, I like to go walking after dark. It’s a sort of tradition that began when I was little, and my mother would take my sister and I, and then later our brothers, out for what felt then like a late-night walk. I try to keep this little tradition alive even now, and two years ago, when a couple feet of snow fell on Brooklyn, I took the pictures in this post. This is what I picture when as I read I hear Will and Merriman Lyon walk through time singing Good King Wenceslas, and when I imagine the grounds of Willoughby Chase or the White Witch’s sledge cutting through the snow with bells jingling on the red harnesses of its bone-white reindeer.

I intend to clock some time with a cup of hot chocolate in my chair by the Christmas tree. This past year I read and John Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost (which I’d been meaning to read for years) and Sarah Prineas’ much more recent Winterling, both which I think are going to wind up on my list of wintry repeat-reads.

And I think this year it’s about time I re-read His Dark Materials, beginning of course with The Golden Compass and that wonderful ending at the pole. But it’s been a busy year and I’m way behind on my non-research reading. What have I missed this year in the way of stellar winter fantasies?

How about you, folks, any suggestions of wintery novels?

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13 Responses to Smugglivus 2012 Guest Author: Kate Milford

  1. Linda W says:

    I love a good winter fantasy too, so yay, Kate! I’ve read all of the books you mentioned, except for The Face in the Frost, which I will add to my wish list!

  2. mary anne says:

    Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed series. It’s in my Christmas rotation – has some great scenes in a Scandinavian inspired setting (along with a lot of other settings, but those ones particularly resonated with me) and how awesome is it to have the Alpha ruling male of a land be a herd animal, and not a wolf?

  3. Charlotte says:

    Have you read Moominland Midwinter, Kate? I think you’d like it!

  4. Estara says:

    Oh, the Dark is Rising…. the book that made me switch my reading to all English books, when I found out that there were four more books in a series which only had this book translated (they called it winter solstice, which I think works, too).

    Will and Merriman Lyon ^^… I wish they’d turned it into a Miyazaki film, that might have done it justice.

    Hmm… winter books… I remember that while I didn’t enjoy Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale completely, the sense of winter certainly was there. But you being in New York probably already have read that ^^

  5. hapax says:

    And that lore is wild, anarchic, carnivalesque, alight with torch and bonfire, wreathed in holly and ivy. With its many faces masked and jingle bells wrapped about its knees, it spins itself dizzy, ribbons streaming in the wind, chanting auguries and singing of ancient things. It’s Herne the Hunter coming to scatter the forces of the Dark with the Wild Hunt on Twelfth Night.

    Wow. It’s tough to come up with a fantasy description more gorgeous than that.

    That said, hmmm… Patricia McKillip has a lovely version of the “Snow Queen” in one of her short story collections that’s worth tracking down. Louise Marley’s series about the Singers of Nevya (a trilogy plus the follow-up SINGER IN THE SNOW) has a wonderful wintry setting.

  6. Gabriella says:

    Gah! Winter Books are my favorite :) Not really a winter book per say, but the “Secret History” by Donna Tarte has a lot of winter scenes that just make me shiver :)

  7. Eliza says:

    Your essay almost made me want to live where there is snow but then I remembered my low tolerance for the cold and came to my senses.

    Second, thank you, Kate, for the wonderful books you’ve written. I’m a huge fan of The Boneshaker and each day anxiously check where I am in the library’s hold queue for The Broken Lands.

    Here are some winter books that I’ve enjoyed this year. What could be more wintery than the frozen Nordic countries? All these stories weave in a lot of the Norse mythologies, so they’re great to read together:

    Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
    The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse – a retelling of Beowulf.
    Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse – a companion book to The Coming of the Dragon.
    The Sea of Trolls trilogy by the always excellent Nancy Farmer:
    The Sea of Trolls (book 1)
    Legend of the Silver Apples (book 2)
    The Islands of the Blessed (book 3)

  8. Kerry D. says:

    As someone in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m desperately looking for some summer holiday books. Does anyone have any suggestions for those?

  9. lisa says:

    I highly recommend Breadcrumbs by Ann Ursu a stunning re-imagining of The Snow Queen. One of the loveliest books I have ever read.

  10. Kate Milford says:

    These are all such amazing suggestions! Thank you all. I’m making note of the rest and will probably do damage to my bank account this weekend thanks to you lot. :) But I can’t believe I forgot to mention Icefall–I LOVED that book.

    (And Eliza–thank you for that. :)

  11. Eliza says:

    I second Breadcrumbs, Lisa. I can’t believe I forgot to include it. I loved all the references to other winter literary works.

    Kate, you’re welcome. I can’t resist a book with a creepy carnival, and you created one of the creepiest. Love.

  12. Tiffany M. says:

    I second Patricia McKillip’s Snow Queen retelling “Winter Rose.” I like the story, and enjoy it.
    How are you feeling the Game of Thrones? I kept hearing a distant “Winter is coming” spoken in the back of my mind while reading through your post. Lovely post, by the way. I love your recommendations. Thank you.

    Though I haven’t read them, 3 different versions of East of the Sun and West of the Moon are on my TBR list. They remind me of winter:

    East by Edith Pattou
    Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
    Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

  13. Eliza says:

    One additional book, definitely adult. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. One of my all time favorites that I’ve read in the past couple of years. It’s a modern day Gothic/ghost story/fairy tale (without any actual fairies). It has an unreliable narrator, twins, a crumbling mansion, misguided governess, mystery. Great book. Masterful writing.

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