Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Length: Short Story
It is summer, but the land is blanketed with snow. The wolves are chasing them. Faster and faster they push the horses on the sleigh. They must outrun the wolves; they must make it out of the forest. There, a clearing, a village, safety, warmth.
Kirkor and his father, the chieftain, take refuge in a small village. There, 13-year-old Kirkor is drawn to Alin, a man with the warmth of 1000 suns, eyes as blue as the sky, and hair bright like ripe wheat.
The chieftain creates a challenge for Alin and his brother, Balladyn. The first one who collects a basket of raspberries for him will earn a job in the chieftain’s home.
Kirkor, so enamored with Alin, sneaks outside to the woods and follows the brothers. There he witnesses Balladyn’s greed, as well as evil and dark forces he never knew existed as Alin is taken from him. Since Kirkor is still a boy, no one believes his story.
Years pass and Balladyn becomes a trusted advisor of the chieftain. When Kirkor is falsely accused of plotting to poison his father, he is banished from his home. Roaming the land, Kirkor seeks rest under a lone weeping willow tree. It appears to be a simple tree, yet it is strangely comforting and familiar.
The Summer When it Snowed is inspired by the tragedy Balladyna, which was first published in 1839. The book starts with a Foreword explaining a bit of the connection and then there is a Glossary. Two good things right from the start with the Foreword and a Glossary.
The story starts off at a rapid pace and draws you right in as we are already in the midst of the action and a chase is afoot. Being a fairy tale, the story has some common themes. First, there is the untimely return of winter, which shows a contrast between death (winter) and life (summer). These traits are used to illustrate Alin, the sun, as a contrast to his darker brother. The broader theme is transformation. Literal transformation, in humans shape shifting into objects of nature, and transformation as the characters mature and grow. The only constant is the dark forces which remain fixed.
Alin is betrayed by his brother who wants to improve his position in life no matter the cost. If the story had been longer and more time was allotted, it would be here we would see the beginnings of the thirst for power and the evolution of the criminal mind.
When Kirkor is cast out of his homeland, he inadvertently returns to the land where Alin was taken from him. The scene then takes on a mystical, sensual quality as the willow tree wraps itself around Kirkor and comes to life. The attraction between Kirkor and Alin is still tangible, only now Kirkor is a man as well. Kirkor and Alin then set off together, with a bit of guidance even from the same spirit they encountered all those years ago. They ride toward the battle between good and evil. The story progresses at a good pace. It is very easy, in the short time we spend with them, to become attached to Kirkor and Alin, and to get caught up in their world.
The story tries to handle a lot of different issues in a short period and reading a fairy tale as an adult is certainly different than reading one as a child. Since I am outside of the fairy tale world looking in, I did see a few things. First, the story starts with it already snowing in summer and it is not clear what exactly is causing the unrest; perhaps just the spirits are restless and looking to cause chaos. Also, we do not get any back story at all on Alin. There is an attraction between Kirkor and Alin which is palpable, but, as with almost all fairy tales, feelings are not discussed. Kirkor and Alin both know they want a life with each other, but they do not know each at all. This then brings in the question of true soul mates and some things, well, just are. It is only very briefly touched upon that two men during this time period would have to live and love each other in secret. Also, the spirit invokes a whispered promise from Balladyn that fateful night in the woods. Although there are clues, it is left to us to determine exactly what the promise was as the spirit resurfaces looking for payment. There were questions that remained unanswered as to the spirit’s terms of payment since they were somewhat fluid. Kirkor’s relationship with his father is not explored and a bit more on their dynamics would have helped to promote a further understanding.
This is a fairy tale that some may not be familiar with and for that reason it does not have the sense of being overdone. The pull between Kirkor and Alin is sweet and for Kirkor it is all the feelings that encompass first love, only love. Whether you spend a lot of time in the fairy tale world, or like myself, do not visit all that often, The Summer When it Snowed is a recommended short break from reality.
Cover Review: The cover itself pulls the whole story together. It pictures Alin wearing a crown of raspberries and wheat to show the harvest of summer. The pendant around his neck depicts a Slavic solar symbol representing the sun as well as the seasons, and the branches of the weeping willow in the background.