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The Winter Oak by James A. Hetley
Review by Madeleine Yeh
Ace / Penguin Putnam Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0441012019
Date: November 30, 2004 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Winter Oak is a marvelous sequel to The Summer Country, which was in itself a wonderful book. At the end of The Summer Country; Maureen and her sister Jo have triumphed over their enemies, Dougal is dead and Fiona is defeated. Our heroes are prepared to live happily ever after. Maureen and Brian will stay in the Summer Country, holders of an ancient castle and forest; Jo and David can return to our world and resume a safe mundane life. But life is never that simple...

Jo and David return to the mundane world and find that a week?s absence in the summer country has translated into a two months in this world. The bills are piling up, the police are investigating, David?s band has replaced him, and Jo?s computer graphics job is gone. Jo and Maureen?s mother is in the hospital with a stroke.

Maureen is still mentally frail. She feels trapped and imprisoned in her castle, and she can conjure up an unlimited supply of alcohol. Not a really good combination. Brian is determined to live with Maureen, but is understandably scared of her power.

The book is just like life, one damned thing occurs after another. Jo and David deal with a completely unexplainable two month absence, and police questioning. The police having serious questions about Brian Albion?s disappearance and a large quantity of blood. Brian returns to this world to reassure the police and finds himself running from Fiona. He flees to the inner sanctum of his old organization and finds himself on trial for desertion and violating secrets. Jo tries to heal her mother with magic and finds herself in the middle of a shoot out. The dragon Khe?sha starts off trying to deal with eggs and hatchlings; and then finds himself a pawn in Fiona?s attack upon Maureen.

Its lovely having real problems affect even a magical life. A two month absence in fairy land results in lost jobs, and unpaid bills. The obvious explanations ?I was on a two month drunken binge? can have unpleasant repercussions. Magic does not cure alcoholism, or an abusive father, or an injured mother, or provide explanations acceptable to the police. The great dragon Khe?sha might dream of avenging his dead mate, but finds that dragon hatchlings require so much care and constant attention that there is no time or energy left for vengeance. There is barely enough time left to eat.

The book is very well written. The words flow smoothly and freely. The characters and the settings are cleanly and carefully drawn. Each setting from luxurious castle, to stone dungeon, to sterile hospital, to dreary nursing home to open forest is perfectly described, not too sparse and not overly emphasizing the detail. The author uses many points of view. His characters are distinct and interesting, especially the dragon. This book could be read alone, but a lot of the plot elements are set up in The Summer Country . Both books are very good, and among the best fantasy of the last two years.

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