The Malmaci lurks beyond the stockade walls, a faceless, formless monster that has been taking people for generations. Only adherence to the rules and moral obedience can protect you, those who disobey are ‘Wayward’ and will be punished by death at the Crossroads, leaving a stain on the entire family for generations to come.
Simple things conveyed the claustrophobia of the settlement and its puritanical tyranny. I assumed that it was set in Canada with its mix of English, French and ‘First Peoples’ and that made the threat of oncoming winter even more terrifying.
Emmeline is ‘stained’ both by disability and the fact her grandmother died at the Crossroads, yet the woods speak to her and she is driven to explore further and further each day, but all this is a sign of her ‘waywardness’. It goes to show how a book cover does influence your expectations. I spent at least two thirds of the book waiting for her to take off on a long trek into the wilderness, simply because of the figure on the front of the book. She doesn’t but her journey is as long, winding and dangerous as any trek through the snow.
There has been a lot of discussion about dystopian fiction and what influence it has on young people. I think adults look at dystopias in the way they see the world, and teenagers use them to work out how they will see the world. This is an excellent addition to the genre.