Blackthorn Winter by Jill Treseder #BookReview #BlogTour


It’s 1845. Eight-year old James Thorne is growing up in the  New Forest. His life takes him far from his roots – first to  the workhouse, next as a seaman in the Royal Navy, then to the  respectable confines of urban life in 19th century Portsmouth.  But he never relinquishes his joy in the Forest and the yearning  for the presence of trees in his life. 
This family saga traces James’s path from boy to grandfather -  a story of light and shade, love and loss. For some, blackthorn  is an emblem of bad luck. And in a ‘blackthorn winter’, spring  blossom is blighted by snow and ice. But for others – especially  his childhood sweetheart, Kitty – the white flowers bursting  from black branches are a symbol of hope... 
“It’s that white time of year  - the wonderful blackthorn  doing its magic trick of light  out of darkness like stars in  the night sky.”

It's such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Blackthorn Winter today. Many thanks to Jill Treseder for sending me a copy of the novel and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Blackthorn Winter is self-published through SilverWood Books and can be purchased from their website or from Amazon.

Blackthorn Winter spans a period of 64 years, following the life of James Thorne from boy to man. Having thoroughly enjoyed two of Jill Treseder's previous books, My Sister, Myself and The Birthday House, I expected a book with rich historical detail and excellent characterisation and that's exactly what this superbly engaging novel gave me. 
The storyline covers the key periods of James' life, opening with his childhood in the New Forest. It's immediately obvious that he comes from a poor family but he is a happy boy, secure in the love of his Granma and siblings. The book opens, however, with James frantically running through the woods having witnessed a distressingly familiar situation. His fear is evident and yet even as he stumbles through the darkness, the richly evocative prose captures his affinity with his surroundings, despite his concerns about who is pursuing him or the risk of being trapped by the snake catcher. These early passages identify James' fundamental integrity and that persists throughout the novel –  and even when he makes mistakes, he's such a beautifully written character, it's impossible not to love him.
It's not an idyllic upbringing but the warmth exudes from this family as they listen to Granma's stories about how their parents met and fell in love. Their mother was black and as mixed-race children they experience some prejudice but it's the contrast between the classes that most stands out in Blackthorn Winter. Poverty inevitably leads to death and straitened circumstances, and the scenes set in the workhouse poignantly and powerfully portray the harsh conditions the children find themselves suddenly living in. There are some particularly heartbreaking moments here but there are occasional glimpses of compassion and warmth too; I thought the nuanced depiction of Missus Dawkins was particularly interesting.
As boy becomes man, James ends up in the Royal Navy and these chapters explore a period of immense change, both for James himself and on a much larger scale –  something he often resists, preferring tradition to the technological advancements being made. As he travels the world, there are some strikingly affecting scenes, including the disturbing juxtaposition between the horrors of the Crimean War and the rich tourists who come to view it from a distance on their Grand Tour. The most harrowing moments however, come when James' ship is tasked with confronting slave traders. His own lineage makes this especially painful for him but nobody can fail to be deeply touched by the deplorable conditions of the poor souls they attempt to rescue. James experiences highs and lows in his personal affairs too and I was moved to tears more than once as the narrative so heartrendingly reflects the precarious nature of life in the 19th century.
The latter parts of Blackthorn Winter chronicle his life back on land as his family grows, experiencing their own trials and tribulations. With such a strong lead protagonist, there's always a risk that the secondary characters are overshadowed but this never happens here and Jill Treseder brings such empathetic warmth to these people; with one obvious exception, these are flawed, sometimes emotionally distant characters but they are allowed to exhibit more benevolent traits too. 
This is a relatively brief saga coming in at less than 300 pages long but it never feels rushed and the detailed descriptions throughout are impeccable; I was transported to the serenity of the New Forest, the misery of the workhouse and the perilous existence aboard an ironclad ship. It's the examination of societal attitudes and expectations that really drives Blackthorn Winter, however, and the painstaking research that Jill Treseder must have undertaken prior to writing the book pays dividends because this is a captivating, memorable read from start to finish. The excellent characterisation and almost lyrical appreciation of the grounding nature of the natural environment complements the plot perfectly, meaning I have no hesitation in highly recommending Blackthorn Winter. I look forward to reading more from Jill Treseder in the future.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Jill Treseder was born in Hampshire and lived all her childhood  in sight of the sea on the Solent and in Devon, Cornwall and  West Wales. She now lives with her husband in Devon overlook ing the River Dart. 
After graduating from Bristol with a degree in German, Jill  followed careers in social work, management.


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