Howling winds, bone-numbing cold, and biting snow and ice are all just inconveniences standing in the way of Jorie’s determined quest to save her sister Brenna from a ruthless raider in Ellie Cypher’s thrilling debut novel, The Girl from Shadow Springs.
Cypher braces readers for the harsh road ahead in her first sentence: “The answer to what freezes first is the eyes.” From there, the brutally cold landscape and environment only grow exponentially worse as Jorie travels from her relatively safe home in Shadow Springs across the Ice Flats, chasing Brenna’s kidnapper.
“Only idiots tried to cross the Ice Flats,” notes Jorie, who serves as the first-person narrator and heroine of the novel. “The only thing out this way was the cold. And hunger. And death. Way I figured, anyone desperate or dumb enough to think otherwise had it coming.” The tombstones standing on the permafrost on the outskirts of town should have been warning enough, forming “a jagged line of snowy teeth. A boundary between life and death. Between the Flats and the whole rest of the world.”
But desperation, dedication, and love are powerful motivators. Accompanied only by her sled team of dogs and a young boy named Cody, the nephew of a man killed by Brenna’s kidnapper, Jorie is determined to defy the odds and bring her sister home.
“There were only one thing I wanted,” Jorie says. “I wanted to find Bren. I wanted it more than anything in the world. … A wanting so deep, a girl could die from it.”
As their quest and cross-ice trek continue, Jorie’s desire moves closer and closer to fulfillment. At one point, the pair even cross over an ice shelf beneath which the remnants of a village — frozen in time — can be seen, including the body of a young girl.
The sight is more than unsettling. “My mind found a million reasons to stay awake,” Jorie notes. “To not dream, to think about the girl under the ice, her face, her hair. What kind of life she might’ve had. How much she looked like Bren.”
The farther across the ice Jorie and Cody travel, the more dangers they encounter, including a witch who plans to use Brenna’s body as a shell for her broken heart and a means to spread her evil influence over the rest of the world.
Cypher’s evocative descriptions and Jorie’s unique voice create an immersive experience for the reader. Every page drips with visual and sensory details to keep you fully engrossed in the world Cypher has created. We come to care deeply for Jorie and Cody as they struggle against the elements, their own nerves, and the enemy who has taken Brenna.
Jorie’s savvy persona, hardened by wilderness experience, at first seems abrasive and as cold as her surroundings, but her emotional armor begins to soften just a bit the longer she is in Cody’s company. At first, she feels he will only slow her down, but the pair ultimately come to realize they need each other if they are to succeed in their quest.
Originally from Northern California and a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Cypher now lives in East Tennessee with her husband and dog.
Though marketed for young adults, The Girl from Shadow Springs has enough action, grit, and excitement — without ever becoming too graphic or violent — to appeal to readers of all ages.
G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival and is a member of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. He lives in La Vergne where he serves on the city’s library board.
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