A story about identity and acceptance, Natalya Newman
May 2, 2022
Wynter’s Thief by Sherryl Jordan, first published in 2019, follows two young people who strive to find freedom in a world where being different is dangerous. This novel explores how easily society can isolate a person based on one aspect of their identity. Though Wynter’s Thief is a medieval fantasy book, this theme is still widely relevant in the modern world.
This book paints a picture of a much simpler way of living, where everyone provides for themselves and their families and works to build a kinder life. Fortunately or unfortunately, this straightforward lifestyle gives people more time to focus on others and themselves. From this comes stronger relationships, but also stronger prejudices. Jordan approaches the idea of isolation and prejudice through the two main characters of this story, Fox and Wynter.
Fox is a branded thief, wrongfully accused at six summers old and marked for life. We see how this single event in his childhood controls Fox’s past, present and future with an iron grip as he floats from town to town. The only work he can get are the unpleasant jobs that none are willing to do, which barely gets him enough to live on, and he is always suspected when something goes wrong.
Wynter is a water diviner, someone who can feel the songs of the earth in her heart just as surely as she raises her own voice in prayer. But with those earth-songs come the insults and accusations of witchcraft thrown at her by the people she strives to help. Though her heart and soul are kind, she is chained and used as a tool to make money, something she has grown accustomed to.
Apart, these two feel completely hopeless, ostracised from society and seen as menaces to the world. Apart, their ‘other-ness’ is damning and leads only to the gallows and the pyre, with pain etched into every footprint they leave behind. Yet together, Fox and Wynter find solidarity and comfort that lets them face the world head-on. I love the message in the novel of finding strength in togetherness and how community can help us fight the pain caused by isolation and prejudice.
An important aspect of Wynter’s Thief is the idea of freedom, which Jordan spectacularly portrays in its different forms. We see Wynter escaping her father and a life of chains and Fox trying his whole life to hold onto the freedom others wish to take away from him, but something I admire in the writing is that it’s made clear that even when these two are together, they still don’t feel free. Jordan presents the characters of Fox and Wynter in a more realistic sense, rather than having all of their problems and issues with trust be resolved the moment they are together. Jordan shows that though love is a powerful force, it is not a remedy to cure all ills.
Wynter’s Thief also examines Wynter’s faith and how she uses ‘magic’ to help people despite how often she is accused of being in league with the Devil. The fact that she is kind and pure-hearted enough to continue putting her life at risk to help others is a beautiful thing that many would find hard to do. Something about Wynter’s character that I was not satisfied with is how she immediately forgave someone at the end of the book despite him causing her so much pain throughout her life and not making amends for it. I understand that forgiveness is important, but I feel as though it was not a good resolution, or lack of resolution, for this relationship.
An important aspect of Fox’s identity is revealed at the end of the book, but I feel as though it was a bit cliché and somewhat unnecessary. It seemed to me that Fox’s character is built up throughout the story with all of his insecurities, then the reveal functions like a band aid being used to ‘fix’ a broken window. Though this is only my personal perspective, it felt to me like Fox’s past struggles were brushed aside by the end reveal and his freedom was taken away again.
The front cover of this book appears to show a few different messages. Fox and Wynter are in a room together, where we can see stone walls and an intricately arched window. This could represent the idea that it is them against the outside world, but there is no light inside the room. The only light source in the image is the outside world, the place they can perhaps find freedom. Fox and Wynter can’t deny themselves freedom forever, staying inside and not facing the world. As we see throughout Wynter’s Thief, freedom is valuable and cherished. The end of this novel perfectly illustrates this as Fox and Wynter find acceptance and a community that they can thrive alongside, where Fox’s brand and Wynter’s gift are not the only things that define them.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Invisibly Breathing by Eileen Merriman and The King’s Nightingale by Sherryl Jordan. Each of these books explores the nature of relationships and finding a place where you can be yourself without fear. So if you enjoy themes of relationships, magic, identity, and finding acceptance, you should give Wynter’s Thief a read!
- Natalya is a student in Whāngarei.