From the moment I saw the cover of this book, I WANTED to LOVE it. I love stories about "inner energy", auras, psychic awareness, nature, the seasons, Olde Gods, Pagan belief systems and so on. This book had ALL of that...but I just didn't love it. I didn't even like it. After struggling to get through over half the book, I put it down for months and secretly dreaded picking it back up again. That's not a good sign.
The problem is that all these great components don't coalesce into a satisfying whole. There is a plot, but the STRUCTURE of it is very weak. There are millions of writers running around with great concepts, but 99.999% of talent is in the execution of that concept. De Lint just didn't deliver here.
The first problem is with his characters. While I dislike books that linger in a character's thoughts for three pages while the action is stalled, de Lint gives us little more than stick figures for characters. They're not even really characters as much as they are standard archetypes. What I usually find is that most authors are great at character development and very weak in plot development. In rare cases where characters are exceptionally drawn, I "might" be able to hang on to a book and read it like a character study. In this case though, you get neither clear characters with distinct personalities or a plot with even an ounce of momentum. That's why the book was virtually unreadable to me. It was beyond dull and tediously boring.
The main problem with the plot is that the "bad guy" or Icelord is NEVER seen in well over half of the book! We don't even visit his lair. We don't hear his voice. Nothing. We hear others talk about him in passing, very briefly and we see a few of his Stormkin henchmen a couple of times, but that's it for 2/3 of the book! Yes, he's trying to cover the world in ice and snow, but he's completely inconsequential. Because of his non-presence, the story has NO opposing force, no urgency and thus no momentum. The story feels completely inert. Even in Lord of the Rings, where the Fellowship is fighting against a dis-embodied villain (Sauron), we STILL get to see the eye over and over as a reminder of his looming and dangerous presence. We also have the evil wizard, Sauroman as the human focal point of the evil, opposing force. De Lint gives us NONE of that. If our hero had been given a gun at the opening of the story, he wouldn't know where to aim because the villain is nowhere to be found for a very, very, very long time.
Speaking of our hero, Taran seems to have too many cool powers and no real vulnerability. Boring. The Tinker and his wife get FAR too much time in the first half of this book. The focus should be on Taran and the non-existant villain, but we're left hanging out in the woods with the Tinker and his wife for chapter after chapter. The dialogue was also very repetitive. If I had a dollar for every time the Tinker said, "Broom and Heather!", I could get a complete refund on this book. Characters also seem to do things for no reason. Carrie just decided over night that she loved Taran and that it was safe to confide in him. What?
Perhaps the worst piece of plotting of all comes in the very reason this quest takes place. The Summerlord owns a staff that contains all his power to turn the earth warm again after the winter months. Well...he LOST IT. Yes, that's right. He's a GOD of creation, wonder, majesty and awe and he LOST HIS MAGICAL STAFF and now the Icelord has it. WHAT??!!
I was going to give this book two stars, but just writing that previous sentence reminded me of how LAME and lazy that plotting was and I've downgraded it to one star. In fairness to de Lint, I believe this was his third book ever written. It definitely shows. Perhaps his later works are better. In any case, definitely skip this cream puff that looks delicious on the surface because it has all the right ingredients, but is completely empty on the inside.