The title in a twining starkly black font, up against the bright white and silver of it’s ornate surrounding beckons readers in. Black Snow Falling by L.J. MacWhirter is gorgeously illustrated.
It’s 16th century winter and an evening skating with a friend slowly descends into acute hopelessness. Ruth is a young girl who’s deprived of her father and being herded away in the cruellest way by her stepmother- all of her friends abandon her and suddenly Ruth is all alone. In conjunction with this narrative the story of a boy called Jude is told and both of their lives, so different yet so alike, conjoin and meet.
This novel is of the fantasy genre which takes one to a world where angels give children dreams and thieves come and take them. I feel that here is much room for complexity in this world that MacWhirter has began building but the novel’s themes, stories, and meaning, are all told in the most concise way. This way of telling the story is reflected in both the writing style and plot which is simplistic and easy to follow. Black Snow Falling is saying what it wants to say with nothing in between.
One thing that struck me as a reader is how MacWhirter draws Ruth out to be a courageous and bold young lady without self congratulating fanfare. A strong point which I hope MacWhirter explores further in her writing is being able to push her characters to quite a low point. A character is not hard to root for when all forces around them are fighting against what they truly want. This lays a strong foundation for the reader as they will want to peel through the pages see these characters build themselves back up, which in essence is a vital element to the novel where the themes are so tied to human resilience under the toughest times.
MacWhirter’s imagination is reminiscent of the darkness and storytelling present in Studio Ghibli animation films. The violent and dark undertones mesh with the youthful heroes and specific aspects of the novel. I can very clearly see Black Snow Falling as a vibrant animated adventure, a medium I think would suit this fiction rather well.
A testament to the impact this novel can subtly impart is the reaction the reader may have towards the end of the novel. The final page made me smile and I truly felt happiness for Ruth- and hope. The culmination of a novel is so vital to how a story is received and remembered; Black Snow Falling leaves some threads, some beats that can still be explored but overall the effect of the last page is well done.
Though a fair debut there are some questionable moments within. I found myself scratching my head at a few particular moments such as when Columbus was described alongside da Vinci as “the greatest example(s) of dream fulfillment”. While Leonardo da Vinci is an acclaimed artist that inspires many with his work, is Christopher Columbus too one to be idolised? He did indeed colonise Native America but can such a horrific part of history that led to the death of people, culture and Native’s rights really be regarded as something a young person should look up to?
Alongside this is my curiosity in the use of the Holocaust, a very real event, to further the mythology of the novel. An idea presented in Black Snow Falling is that perhaps those who have wronged us and are doing wrong to others were victims of the Dream Thieves who have stolen their hope and are manipulating their hopelessness to do evil. Though the Holocaust has been used in fictional media, for example in the X-Men, it is not so common that there has been such an insinuation that this tragedy took place because of humans being victim to a fantastical evil.
There is a scene that depicts the horrors of the Holocaust and it is so graphic, along with another few deaths, that I sat and wondered if this is indeed a novel suitable for children- a targeted audience for Black Snow Falling. I dare say some themes of this novel are rather visceral and would be better supported with a more sophisticated voice to avoid reader whiplash. But perhaps this was MacWhirter’s intention.
Aside from these niggling things, Black Snow Falling is a concentrated story that isn’t confused by what it wants to say and how it will go about doing it. The plot and themes are clean, characters have drive and aspirations, but as there is with everything in the world there is plenty of room for MacWhirter to grow into her storytelling.