I think that this is going to be a particularly hard book to review, though I hope I don't confuse people with my thoughts and feelings about it. I won it in a First Reads giveaway and I'm somewhat thankful that I did as it was, quite honestly, a thoroughly intriguing book (even if it did take me forever to read, due to my busy schedule. Sorry Mr. John Campbell Rees!!). I'll try to keep this review spoiler free.
It is kind of a hard book to pin point in terms of genre. There are all sorts of genres, concepts and themes mingled into one incredible book. There's a lot of science fiction aspects, being that the tree is sort of an alternate universe to our own. There's also a strong military theme, being that the tree needs a definite structure of people to run it, from sprites to ranking officers. The book also has themes like the "coming of age" of the main character, the motherhood of another officer, love between multiple couples, religion and even loss. I think that throughout these themes, there's something that everyone can relate to and thusly that it can be enjoyed from a vast array of people.
To basically describe the book (in my own understanding), there's a tree that is in our reality. It resides on a parcel of land owned by a farmer. However, if one is to go deeper, they'll find that this tree also exists in another reality where the lives of tiny (microscopic) humans take care of this tree. Some are in the form of sprites, though some of these sprites are later transformed and become officers. All these people have something to do within this tree. There is one particular sprite that has more to do with the life of this tree than most. They (through a series of spoilorish events) become an officer, meet new people and become an amazing person.
I felt that this is the type of thing that can't be used just the once. Well, duh! It's a book and they can be read many times. Well, that's not really what I meant. My real meaning is that to fully gain everything from this book, it needs to be read a multitude of times. There's a lot of information about this alternate reality and subsequently a lot to understand about it, as well as the events surrounding the book. For that reason, I think it's quite an accomplished book as the author has brilliantly managed to create a book that has not only impressed me the first time, but will impress me next time I read it as well (there will definitely be a next time). Sure, one might argue that it's very complex. However, in this case, I feel that's a good thing as the author isn't trying to dumb it down for anyone. He's created the story he wants to create and isn't going to be swayed by people who might not understand it.
In some portions, there's a farm who's presented to us in our version of this world. As the tree is on his land, we get glimpses of it and what happens to it. Several times, the tree succumbs to damage, among other things, and we sort of get a little more history of the tree and what he does to fix it from our end. I liked his portion of the book, though I felt that he was in it very little. We read that the tree gets damaged from his point of view, but I think it would have been nice to also have it heal in his point of view as well. It just seemed like there was far too little of him, even forgetting about him in between his appearances sometimes.
I don't know whether they've been fixed in a later version, but I did notice several errors in spelling and grammar. I know that my own writing isn't perfect. However, in the book, I felt that sometimes it could have been improved with another few times where one goes over it with a read pen. It was mostly errors in the versions of "it's"/ "its" and "you're"/ "your". I'm not one of those people who are particularly hung up on that type of thing, but it happened fairly often so I figure that it's worth mentioning just so that it can be fixed in a future version.
I particularly liked the characters. There aren't really any characters that I didn't like. My favourite was the tree nun and I particularly liked her plot line. I thought that the entire religion within the tree was intriguing and, the mystical aspects surrounding it was something I kind of wish was explored more thoroughly. Theoretically, I think this little universe would make for more great books. Personally, I certainly would like to know more about it. Even if it weren't about this tree/ alternate Earth, I'm quite sure that I would like to read more of this author's books. He has a way with words that is kind of unique. I've never read anything quite like Winter Squad before and nor anything written in the same manner. I don't know how to put my feelings in words, but John Campbell Rees' style is just incredibly intriguing.
It's not a perfect book, so four stars for now. However, I'm pretty sure that I just haven't fully comprehended it on this first read. Likely, my rating will go higher in a future read of the book. As I said in the last paragraph, I would actually like to read another book from this author, even if it isn't in the same series.