on June 14, 2003
The "Dark Enchantment" books are a series of reasonably short novels, all stand-alone stories, that cater well to the young teenage girl who likes a blend of romance, mystery, mild horror and fairytale. Though I don't fit into that age group anymore, the books in the Dark Enchantment series are nice, quick reads, perfect for cold wintry nights by the fire, just complex enough to hold my interest.
In "The Hounds of Winter", young Jansie is heartbroken when her older sister Tavia marries Silvan, partly because her beloved sister will now be living miles away, and partly because Jansie herself is in love with the dashing, prince-like Silvan. But after the Winter Solstice, Jansie is invited to Silvan's huge and isolated house to keep her sister company while he is away on business, and she is shocked by her sister's hollow and frail appearence. When questioning Gilmer, the charming and cheerful stewart, he tells her somewhat reluctantly that she has been suffering nightmares recently, awakening from sleep screaming of a terrible hound. And soon Jansie experiences them for herself - was it just her imagination, or did she hear a strange shuffling noise like an animal outside her door? And the howling about the house - what is that?
Gilmer tells her the tale of the ghostly pack of hounds that is said to haunt the woods, a dozen or so pure white dogs, with a leader of pitch black. Together, they are called the Hounds of Winter, and most of the village is terrified of them. And then even odder things start happening - messages pleading for help are etched in the snow, Tavia and Silvan are bickering, and a feeling of foreboding falls all upon the house.
Mystery upon mystery piles up - what is the meaning of the inscription on the bronze sword? And of the painting in the tower? What are the strange white hounds? What is Silvan's terrible secret?
A simple yet intriging story, good for reluctant readers, and with a somewhat sad, but vital message at its end. With a spooky atmosphere and range of mysterious events, most will keep on reading right till the very last page. "The Hounds of Winter" is probably the best of the "Dark Enchantment" series, and is also published under the title "Heart of Ice". If you like the moody, tone, content and surroundings of this book, I'd also suggest "The Darkangel" by Meredith Ann Pierce, and the television production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" based on the book by Arthur Conan Doyle and starring Richard Roxburgh.