The winter solstice is almost upon us: tomorrow, December 21, is the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
Many cultures around the world mark this time of year with holidays or festivals to celebrate the light that brightens these long, cold, winter nights. Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucy’s Day, in which a young girl is chosen to wear a crown of candles on December 13th, the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar. Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, celebrates an ancient miracle in which a day’s supply of oil burned for eight days. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, often referred to as “the light of the world.” Ancient Romans celebrated the birth of the god Sol Invictus, who name means “unconquered sun,” just after the winter solstice.
These dark, chilly nights are the ideal time to curl up with a good book — and I have a few suggestions for winter solstice reading.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
The second book in Susan Cooper’s classic fantasy series, known as The Dark is Rising Sequence, tells the story of young Will Stanton, who discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is a member of the Old Ones: an ancient, magical group that protects the world from the evil forces of the Dark.
The epic battle of good versus evil, signified by the Light and Dark, spans all five books in the series. This volume centers around Will’s quest to find the Six Signs: elemental symbols that aid the powers of the Light. Not only is this book fitting to read around the winter solstice due to its themes of darkness and light, but also because the story is set around this time of year, beginning on Midwinter’s Eve (the winter solstice) and ending on Twelfth Night, which ends the Christmas season on January 5th.
The Dark is Rising is a most excellent book to pull off the shelf each December and read in front of a cozy fireplace. Susan Cooper is the recipient of the 2012 Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens for The Dark Is Rising Sequence: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
In a lush fantasy world inspired by czarist Russia, the country of Ravka is divided by a dark realm filled with monsters called the Shadow Fold. Some citizens of Ravka have magical powers; others do not. When plain, ordinary, decidedly unmagical Alina’s best friend, Mal, is attacked by one of the monsters that dwells in darkness, she suddenly discovers her latent magical ability and saves him from certain death. Alina’s talent is tied to the light, and is considered highly unusual and quite valuable. Alina finds herself whisked into the magical world of the Grisha, the magical elite, to hone her ability. The Grisha’s mysterious and powerful leader, the Darkling, takes a particular interest in her as she trains in magical ways … but his intentions may not be for the best.
Debut author Leigh Bardugo has created a world that is rich with the opposition between light and dark, mirrored in Alina’s relationship complicated relationship with the Darkling. Does he love her, or is he her enemy? Like the literal dark and light, Alina and the Darkling are opposing forces that are inextricably bound together. Readers can anticipate more of the story in Siege and Storm, coming in June 2013.
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett’s beloved Tiffany Aching books are about a young girl who learns that being a witch requires much more than an easy life casting spells. Though Tiffany conquered seemingly impossible situations in the series’s previous two books (The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky), the third volume holds her biggest challenge yet as she impulsively jumps into the Dark Dance, which marks the transition from summer to winter. Inadvertently taking the place of the Summer Lady, she attracts the attention of the Wintersmith, who decides that he is in love with her.
This story is a classic tale of light versus dark, as the Wintersmith resorts to increasingly drastic tactics to try to win Tiffany’s heart. By taking the Summer Lady’s place in the Dark Dance, Tiffany has accidentally exiled the true Summer Lady, and it seems as though the world is in danger of being locked in the cold and gloom of winter forever.
Sir Terry Pratchett is the recipient of the 2011 Margaret A. Edwards Award for nine books that demonstrate his significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens, including the first two books in the Tiffany Aching series.
There you have it: my suggestions for books to read as the darkness settles in and we find ourselves longing for the light. Do you have any particular books you like to pull off the shelf around the winter solstice?
— Allison Tran, currently reading What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
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