Jennifer, known as Fer, lives with her grandmother who is a healer. Grannie makes herbal cures and poultices. She is strict but fiercely loving. At school Fer becomes an outsider. Her grandmother has made her a patchwork jacket lined with all kinds of protective spells. For this and other reasons Fer is relentlessly bullied.
Fer’s peers at school think she is weird and different. But she knows she is weirder and more different than they imagine. She has a strange sensitivity that makes her feel the emotional climate of the whole country. She knows that her parents have disappeared. She suspects they are dead and that their death is somehow shrouded in mystery.
Fer and her grandmother live near a feature known as the Way, which Fer is forbidden to approach. A footpath leads to a clearing where there is a magical pool. The Way is a portal to another universe. One day, however, a letter comes from her absent father to her grandmother. He explains that his daughter has some magic from the world beyond the Way. The parents have entered that world, seeking to understand its significance for Fer. So far their quest has proved unsuccessful. Fer determines that she must traverse the Way, find her parents and help them. Reluctantly her grandmother agrees, extracting a promise from Fer that she will return.
The remainder of the book tells the story of Fer’s adventure in the other world and her quest for her true identity. All is not what it seems.
Prineas’s book has powerful intertextual links with the Narnia saga. The land beyond the Way is experiencing an everlasting winter. The female villain of the piece bears a striking resemblance to the White Witch. The animals, of course, speak. The people of the other world, contending with the bitter cold, find themselves semi-mutating into animals, a process known as wildling. Fer now discovers that she has the curing talents of her grandmother and she helps people remain human.
There are two characters whose provenance is original. A boy named Rook is enslaved to the evil lady who rules the kingdom. He is bound to carry out her wishes but finds imaginative ways of disobeying her. His tactical options are enlarged by the ability to transform into a horse or dog when he wishes, more versatile than a Rowling animagus. There is also a horse named Phouka. In his human phase Phouka was Rook’s brother. He is now saddled with his equine identity. The relationship between Fer and Phouka is an outstanding feature of this eminently readable, if somewhat derivative in places, novel.