The Winter of Enchantment

2986057by Victoria Walker
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: 1969

I suspect many people like me found this because Garth Nix references it as one of his favorite novels and an inspiration behind Sabriel (though having read it that seems comical, given how much darker Sabriel is). This short book was written and published without much of the traditional process in place today, but it was easy for me to see why its enduring charm has kept it in print for decades.

A portal fantasy set in Victorian London, this follows young Sebastian as he waits for his father to return from India with his new stepmother. While he waits, he stumbles upon a magical Mirror that shows him a girl imprisoned in an evil Enchanter’s Treasure House. Sebastian resolves to save her with the help of a magical Teapot and a cat named Mantari.

This story is full of tropes, yet the earnest language precludes boredom with succinct diction and a sort of on-the-nose acknowledgment of the stories that came before it. Sebastian does set out to save the girl, but Melissa proves to be clever and capable too, and causes him to realize girls are more than pretty objects sitting around to be rescued. It’s cute in its approach.

What surprised me most was the deft description of the utterly strange world Melissa inhabits—dreamlike qualities and magic with unknown rules that reminded me of Lewis Carroll. In every chapter there’s something strange and surprising, with beautiful imagery and youthful creativity.  A lot of my enjoyment came from seeing accepted “rules” of stories broken—there’s a raw enthusiasm for the story here that is contagious.

Pick this up for a fun little quest to defeat evil and set things to rights! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winter of Enchantment is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Emmaline is the only child able to see the winged horses in the mirrors of the mansion-turned-hospital. When one of them turns up on her side of the mirrors, she promises the Horse Lord that she will protect Foxfire from the Black Horse that hunts her. A story of hope and magical realism during WWII in England. See my review here.
  • The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary – Saki doesn’t want to go to her grandmother’s house in the country, but when she messes around with some local kids she unleashes a death curse on her family.  With the help of three different spirit guides, she absolutely must set things right during the Night Parade! See my review here.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – So many of the descriptions in The Winter of Enchantment reminded me of this book. Jeweled trees, a huge mansion, a girl unsure of her identity and if she’s a prisoner or a queen. This YA fantasy inspired by Indian mythology is a delicious read of dreams and destiny. See my review here.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – The ultimate portal fantasy of our generation. See where Harry’s journey begins as he attends Hogwarts to become a wizard. (Having just read this again, it’s probably even more adorable than you remember). See my review here.
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