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Winter Shadows

by Margaret Buffie

Vicky Metcalf Award–winner Margaret Buffie returns with a breathtaking novel that is part realism, part time-travel fantasy, and part coming of age tale. Winter Shadows focuses on two young women who live in the same Manitoba home a century and a half apart.

In 1856, Beatrice, a Métis woman of Scots and Cree ancestry, must contend with prejudice and decide whether or not to marry a man she doesn’t love to escape living in a house where she is treated as an unwanted child. Meanwhile, in the present, Cass rebels against the changes in her home resulting from her mother’s death and her father’s sudden remarriage. Yearning for someone sympathetic to talk to, the two women connect across time thanks to a brooch of Beatrice’s that Cass finds during renovations in the house. The brooch grants them brief visions of each other, and allows Cass to read Beatrice’s journal as it is being written.

The home lives of the two women are remarkably similar – both live with an antagonistic stepmother, a well-meaning but ineffectual father, and an irritating step-sibling – but in their reactions, rebellion, and perceived options for the future, they are clearly products of their times. The language of Beatrice’s journal is never too archaic, and while there are a few terms (such as “neurotic”) and customs (such as addressing older adults, including the minister, by their first names) that don’t quite ring true for the mid-19th century, the journal is just as engaging as the chapters told from Cass’s point of view.

This communication across time obviously draws on conventions of fantasy, but these elements never seem forced or implausible, and there is plenty of suspense and energy to sustain the two alternating narratives.