Winter of Fire
by Sherryl Jordan
Summary from Goodreads:
Elsha is one of the Quelled: a branded people, doomed always to mine coal to warm the ruling class, the Chosen. But Elsha has strange visions that set her apart – and a strong spirit that condemns her to death. Her life is saved when she is called to be Handmaiden to the Firelord, the most powerful being on the planet. Elsha is the first of her kind ever to be so honored – and both the Chosen and her fellow Quelled are stunned. But her powers and visions grow ever stronger, even in the face of extreme prejudice. Yet Elsha must learn the hard way that you can’t play with fire without getting burned.
I read Winter of Fire for the first time in sixth grade ten years ago. I devoured the story, and it never really left me. Unfortunately, Winter of Fire is out of print, but every time I went to a used book sale I searched for it, until I finally found it for cheap on amazon a few years ago. This was my third time reading Winter of Fire, and I have to say, it never gets old.
Winter of Fire is definitely a middle-grade book, which was a little hard to get used to after reading so many young adult books lately, but I quickly slipped back in to the story. Elsha is one of the most fiery characters I’ve ever come across in any type of literature, and she won’t leave you without a fight. She’s defiant, strong, and ruthless in her pursuit of justice and ending oppression for her people. She knows there’s more to life than what she’s been given, and she doesn’t let obstacles get in her way easily.
Every time I read Winter of Fire, I see more of the themes of feminism and justice than I did during my initial sixth grade reading, but even then, I could tell that part of Elsha’s character was about deliberately being a strong female. In Elsha’s society, the female Quelled people are the lowest class of citizens, barely better than animals. They’re not even granted the title of woman–instead, they’re called “Harsha”. It may be her lot in life, but Elsha refuses to submit quietly, and I love her for it.
This story is actually less action-oriented than I remember. Elsha does have adventures and dangers ahead of her, but what’s more important is the people she comes in to contact with on said adventures. She encounters an entire spectrum of reactions. Some accept her more readily, while others look at her in contempt, and through each character, the world around Elsha is built a little more. It’s an amazing, bleak world. Sherryl Jordan isn’t the type to spend an entire paragraph describing the world around Elsha, but in just a simple sentence I was transported to the dark land where it’s always cold and firestones are the only source of life.
This is one of my most-recommended books of all time, and after another re-reading, I remember why. It’s out of print, but you can find used copies on amazon, and I highly recommend doing so. It has such powerful themes about oppression and gender equality, all the while being cloaked in an amazing story with one of my favorite protagonists ever. I’m participating in a Social Justice Theme Read, and while I plan on reading Half the Sky for that read, this would also make an excellent book for that read if you were so inclined. And you better believe I’m counting Elsha on my Feminist Reading Challenge!
Final Impression: Just an amazing, amazing book with some of my favorite characters ever. I’m so sad this book is out of print, and it is easily one of my top ten favorite books of all time. Few books have competition with it on my bookshelf. Read it if you can, whether that’s buying a used copy or checking it out from the library!