Richard Grant,
In the Land of Winter
(Avon, 1997)

The events in Richard Grant's In the Land of Winter take place a few years after Tex and Molly in the Afterlife. This time, the focus is on Pippa Rede, single mother of the elf-like Winterbelle and practicing witch.

No longer living in a nylon yurt, Pippa and Winterbelle are sharing a huge old house with Eulace, Pippa's aunt. Eulace is critical and carping, conducting a close personal relationship with her Magnavox television set, but Pippa usually manages to avoid or ignore her. She works at a florist/gift shop call Rose Petal and Thorn and late at night, slips away to Wabenaki Mountain, where she conducts her solitary pagan rituals. Her days have steady rhythm to them, and she is content.

Then her world is shattered when a caseworker from the Department of Family Services takes custody of Winterbelle, claiming that she may be a victim of ritual abuse. The charge is instigated by a Carol Deacon Aaby, a housewife with too much time on her hands, and it is supported almost solely by a so-called self-appointed expert, the odious Dr. Alison Rhinum. Pippa is devastated to the point of being nearly incapacitated, but as the battle lines are drawn, she finds out exactly of what she is capable.

At first, her allies seem ineffectual and self-centered. Her attorney, Arthur Torvid, seems more interested in his personal agenda and soapbox than in actually building a realistic case. Her Wiccan friend, Judith, is good at dramatic poses and statements, but her favorite topic is herself, particularly herself combined with sexual gratification. Glyph And/or, the representative from Witches Against Negativity and Discrimination (W.A.N.D.) seems equally self-absorbed. Kaspian Aaby, stepson of the woman fueling the case against Pippa, has good intentions, but his early attempts to help go awry. When they finally do rally, however, it is because Pippa has transformed herself.

There is a curious phenomenon that many parents experience, and it is not limited to those who have physically given birth, and it is not even exclusive to parents; I've seen some pet owners similarly affected. It is the undercurrent of fierce protectiveness and fear for one's child, a sense of dedication and devotion. Pippa's plight resonates especially with anyone who has this affliction; her helplessness in the face of bureaucracy and the power-brokers is heartrending. It is, however, realistic. But Pippa perseveres, learning that in order for magic to exist in the world it is necessary to create it oneself.

Although the winter setting sets the tone for the narrative, the book is anything but bleak; a golden thread of hope and kindness runs throughout it. There is indeed magic here, although the book is more straightforward than Tex and Molly. Grant could easily have lost the heart of the story in an anti-bureaucracy tirade, but he never loses sight of the story, and Pippa blossoms into her potential.

As moody as a gray December day, yet with the precision and clarity of a single crystalline snowflake, In the Land of Winter takes the reader on a journey through the complexities of the human heart, and what a worthwhile trip it is.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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