I ordered a copy of The Returning by Christine Hinwood because it’s blurbed by two of my favorite authors: Megan Whalen Turner and Melina Marchetta. Of course, I had to read it! It also recently received the Printz Honor. Plus, both the premise and the cover looked intriguing.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone – all his fellow soldiers slain – suspicion swirls around him. He’s damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him?
The writing is certainly different from anything that I’ve ever read. I’m not even sure what genre The Returning falls under – I feel like it’s a mix of both fantasy and historical fiction. Fantasy because it’s set in a different world (made up locations). Historical fiction because aside from the setting, I feel like it could be a story set in the past. There’s no magic in The Returning. The whole book focuses on the aftermath of the war between Uplanders and Downlanders and how it affects the various characters. I had a mixed reaction to this book: I’m glad I got to read it because I was intrigued but I didn’t end up loving it as I expected. It took me a while to get into the writing because of the shifting points of view. I felt like I couldn’t hold on to one character long enough for me to like him or her. Also, it’s a quiet kind of novel in the sense that nothing big or dramatic occurs. After all, we’re getting a glimpse of what life is like AFTER the war.
Overall, I think it’s a good book but I’m afraid it’s not something that every reader will enjoy. Like I said, I’m not a fan of the shifting POVs. At the start of the novel, I felt like every chapter was narrated by a different character (I think there were four or five various POVs). Just when I was starting to root for a character, the POV changes. I did like how everything came together in the second half of the novel but I was surprised at how fast the latter chapters moved in comparison to the earlier ones. The first half spanned months while the second half jumped a couple of years ahead. I liked that it’s a complex novel and that Christine Hinwood created so many layers to the story – we see what it’s like for a veteran soldier to go home, what it feels like for the family he left behind, how hard it is for him to make friends. I also liked the bit of romance weaved into the story but it felt underdeveloped. I think the narrative would have worked if the novel was longer because readers would get to know the characters more. As it is, I liked the book a lot more before I read it because it had so much promise. I feel bad because I could have fallen in love with The Returning but didn’t. If you’re curious about this book, I recommend that you still give it a try because you might end up liking it a lot more than I did. I’ve seen mixed reviews for Christine Hinwood’s debut novel – some loved it while it didn’t work for others – so I guess it really depends on the reader.