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The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta
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The Winter Boy

by Sally Wiener Grotta

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The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta is a highly recommended dystopian science fiction coming-of-age novel.

Over the years peace has been established in the land by the Alleshi, a group of widows who train young men to become their Alemen, Blessed Boys. A strong bond will naturally develop between Alleshi and Alemen. Rishana, a young Allesha, is about to take her first Boy, Ryl. Rishana has been asked to do this even though she still has four months of training left. Ryl is categorized by all as a difficult young man.

As an Alleshi, Rishana must teach Ryl sensitivity, communication, and empathy - all things a good leader of men will need in order to maintain the peace, but she also must tutor him in sensual and sexual performance. Ryl must learn diplomacy and tact to help keep the peace someday. As Rishana and Ryl struggle to adjust under the Alleshi system to the many changes and each other, other facts are revealed that may shake the foundations of their orderly world.

The changes and growth that both characters experience during their time together help propel the story forward, as do the myths and legends that are shared as part of the learning process. What does it take to promote peace?

Although this is a page turner and a compelling plot, it also requires the reader to buy into the Alleshi system (and all the name changes that apparently accompany it), as well as accept the whole idea of Alleshi using sex to train young men. In the end it was a very good book and well written. I'm sure there will be many 5 star reviews for it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pixel Hall Pres via Netgalley for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
This was an early review....well written and interesting concept, still took me a long tim to finish ( )
  Scerasoli | Oct 7, 2015 |
I've recently finished reading The Winter Boy by author, Sally Wiener Grotta. From the very beginning of this story I was impressed by Grotta’s nearly impeccable writing. The Winter Boy is certainly not Grotta’s first foray into the world of writing, and this fact is clearly evident throughout the entire book. Grotta writes with an easy-to-follow and easy-to-understand style. She has formulated this tale with flair; she’s appropriately descriptive with the scenes and/or the personal interactions, and the various characters are believable and certainly easy to empathize with.

In The Winter Boy, readers will begin their literary journey in the “Valley of the Alleshi,” a valley that is set in an age far removed from the one in which we live today. Rishana, one of this story’s main characters, has almost finished the three years’ worth of training she needs in order to become one of the highly respected and much sought after Alleshi. The life of an Alleshi was not Rishana’s original life path, but fate and circumstance had entwined and this new path is what came to fruition because of fate’s choices.

Existing during the chronological ages found within The Winter Boy, are the Alleshi: a group of women who, at the start of every new season, pick older boys who are nearing maturity – bringing them into their personal lives and dwellings. Each Alleshi will choose just one such boy and she will then spend that entire season training and grooming him, using knowledge and sexual intimacy – skills and lessons that have been honed to perfection and then passed down through the centuries by the many Alleshi women who have come before Rishana.

For this ‘winter’ season (her very first as a fully titled Alleshi), Rishana chooses to take Ryl, an exceptionally head-strong and willful boy, into her home. In doing so, she internally hopes that she possesses the needed strength and skills that will be required to fully unlock the true potential of the leader he could become.

Of course, in the Valley of the Alleshi, all is not as it seems – over the years the seeds of discord and discontent have been willfully and knowingly sewn. Without warning, tempers boil hotly before violently exploding. The shock, and aftershocks, of unforeseen and horrific actions against the Alleshi now threaten to shatter the peace that this valley, and its neighboring towns and villages, have experienced for the last several centuries. And that’s all of the ‘about’ information that I’m going to provide – the remainder will need to be gleaned via reading the actual book.

In summary, though, The Winter Boy was a great book. As I had previously mentioned, it was well-written, and it was also interesting and entertaining. While The Winter Boy didn't have the ending that I’d secretly hoped for, it’s certainly in the ‘must read’ category for anyone who enjoys a cultural fantasy set in the ‘long ago’ of a more prehistoric past – or, one that is actually set in a far distant future that uses today’s day and age as that ‘prehistoric’ and ‘barbaric’ past. ( )
  Charline_Ratcliff | Dec 19, 2014 |
I got a free copy of The Winter Boy in my World Fantasy Convention book bag, and met the author and her husband at the con, where Ms. Grotta was kind enough to sign my copy. The Winter Boy certainly lives up to its billing as a novel reminiscent of Ursula K. LeGuin's classic science fiction and fantasy

However, her Alleshi, the widows who uphold the Alleshine peace by training Allemen to serve as ambassadors and anthropologists, are also reminiscent of the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert's Dune saga. Their methods of training youths to become Allemen harken back to the priestess who tamed Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Finally, the setting seems like a null-magic fantasy setting, but little details leavening the story reveal that the Alleshi live in a post-collapse society whose technological re-development has proven somewhat odd. For example, some settlements under the peace seem to possess the industrial infrastructure necessary to make automatic firearms, but a certain commonplace technology remains mysterious.

The story unfolds as a series of vignettes and dialogues, and best rewards the patient reader capable of keeping track of the major characters various identities. An Allesha has many names: the name with which she was born, the name she took upon becoming an Allesha, and the names given to her by every youth she loves and molds into an Alleman. This makes explicit the underlying point of the Allesha, that an Allesha is Every Woman.

Some of the questions raised by the plot go unresolved, such as what will happen when Rishana's first pupil finally meets the tribe currently threatening to tear apart the Alleshine peace, but I suspect that such a confrontation was too momentous to fit in The Winter Boy, and will have to wait until the sequel. Also, the climax of the story seems to happen offstage, without Rishana's direct involvement, but I may have missed something. Regardless, I heartily recommend The Winter Boy for readers looking for a thoughtful, character-driven adult fantasy. ( )
1 vote starbreakerauthor | Dec 9, 2014 |
I would like to thank Pixel Hall Press & NetGalley for granting me a copy of this e-book to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review.

Goodreads Teaser:
"Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Mary Doria Russell and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Winter Boy explores important political and social issues within a dynamic, character-driven otherworld, wrapped up in masterful storytelling.

The Valley of the Alleshi is the center of all civilization, the core and foundation of centuries of peace. A cloistered society of widows, the Alleshi, has forged a peace by mentoring young men who will one day become the leaders of the land. Each boy is paired with a single Allesha for a season of intimacy and learning, using time-honored methods that include storytelling, reason and sex. However, unknown to all but a hidden few, the peace is fracturing from pressures within and beyond, hacking at the very essence of their civilization.

Amidst this gathering political maelstrom, Rishana, a young new idealistic Allesha, takes her First Boy, Ryl, for a winter season of training. But Ryl is a “problem boy,” who fights Rishana every step of the way. At the same time, Rishana uncovers a web of conspiracies that could not only destroy Ryl, but threaten to tear their entire society apart. And a winter that should have been a gentle, quiet season becomes one of conflict, anger and danger."

This book will make you think, whether you want to or not. It is an extremely well crafted story, with only a few places where the pace became too slow for me, but those lulls never lasted too long. And frankly they likely gave me much needed respite from the intensity of the story, the emotions within it, and that it brought out within me.

Rishana is in many ways the true embodiment of "Every Woman," which is what Allesha means. Through her journey we watch and experience a vast range of emotions as the comfortable layers she has wrapped herself in are painfully peeled away. All that she knew and believed in is slowly being taken from her, but in such a way as to leave her trapped within a system that is nothing like she'd been taught it was, and had built it up to be. In her own way Rishanna goes through many of the same Stages as Ryl, though she doesn't seem to be aware of it. Of course her experiences are different, and she wasn't trained to deal with her own emotional journey, but rather the journey of her boy for each season.

During the course of these revelations she also must deal with her First Boy. Ryl is an angry youth, a "problem boy." The kind of boy Rishanna had been trained to work with. And there is something more to this boy, a dangerous secret that has been kept from them both. The information, when it comes out, has the power to destroy lives. Yet it may be the one thing that can save all their lives, not too mention their way of life. The only way to know for sure is to stay alive long enough to see which card comes up next in the hand they've been dealt, and to trust that the foundation Rishanna has built with Ryl is strong enough to withstand the blows he will be dealt.

The lessons are taught both through what Rishanna teaches Ryl over the course of his Season with her, and through the books that they read to each other on the cold winter nights. It makes for an interesting combination, and keeps things from getting too mired down in the rules and regulations of the Alleshi and the Alleshine Peace. As the characters evolve, which happens to both teacher and student, so to do the lessons contained within the stories they read. Emotional attachments are a tricky topic, for sex is used as a teaching method, so teacher and pupil are bound to grow close, and risk becoming too attached. That may be more of a risk with the problem boys, as the emotions are likely to run higher and hotter, but it also makes the rewards that much sweeter. Of course, as Ryl is her first boy, Rishanna has no prior experience to gauge the situation by, only the advise of her mentor. But the fractions taking place within the Alleshi Valley are taking place between individuals as well. Does Rishanna dare to trust Dara to give her honesty, or will Dara continue to try to manipulate and mold her into what she feels is best for the Alleshi?

Framing these lessons is the issue of a violent nomadic people who destroy every village they encounter, slaughtering every person, down to the last infant. How do people of peace protect themselves from such violence without becoming the same as the aggressor? And what happens when those who are at the very heart of that peace have different ideas on how to protect the peace?

It is through the questions that Ryl constantly asks, as well as the way Rishana questions the motives of the Alleshi themselves, that we learn the lessons Ms. Grotta is trying to impart. How do you cope when the very foundations of your world are stripped away? What is your response to discovering that those you trusted most have manipulated you into a specific position? Can you continue forward, and trying to fix the system from within, or do you make a break and start a new system using only those pieces of the original method that match your ideals? Should only a few possess the real power, or should it be spread more widely? How do you stay vigilant enough to spot stress fractures before they become cracks and risk breaking away, or worse yet, breaking the entire system? These are just a few of the questions that the characters will be confronted with, and the reader along with them.

This book will have you challenging not only the concepts within the story, but also concepts you've always accepted. With just a few decisive words Ms. Grotta will have you questioning the very bedrock of your own personal beliefs, and testing the strength of that foundation. Is your history everything you thought it was? Is there more going on behind the scenes? How did you end up where you are now? Was it of your own choosing or were you subtly manipulated into your position? These questions, and more, we should probably never stop asking ourselves. Never simply accept the surface view as being all there is. Just because it is the status quo now doesn't mean it should remain that way, does it? And of course how do you confront violence and survive, without becoming as bad as the aggressor? ( )
1 vote Isisunit | Nov 20, 2014 |
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Pixel Hall Press

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