Title: Winterbrith – The Godless World Book One
Author: Brian Ruckley
I shouldn’t like this book. It’s a war story and I try to avoid war stories as best I can but when delving into the realms of fantasy it is very hard to avoid them. The good ones make manage to go beyond the fighting and I’m glad to say that Winterbirth does just that. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of fighting here and blood, a lot of blood but there are also characters that you can’t help routing for.
The back story in Winterbirth is complex and it shows that we can’t really escape our history as It always comes back to haunt us if we want it to or not. It’s also not an easy book to explain as there are a lot of things going on both above and below the surface.
Brian Ruckley shows us two sides to this world: those of the South who are ‘True Bloods’ and those of the exiled ‘Black Roads’. The uneasy truce of the ‘True Bloods’ is weakening as the High Thane goes to war against one of his own. And it is this time that the Black Road march South.
I could spend many paragraphs going into who is fighting who, who is betraying who, who is helping who, and who doesn’t know that they need to be acting much faster. Luckily this is all explained as you read. This is no slight tale. There is a weighty and mighty book and knowledge of all the pieces is needed if you are to understand the rules of the game and what the game actually is.
As you follow the central band of characters you are left sometimes questioning if events unfold they way they do because of the choices that they make. If you are on the side of the ‘True Bloods’, as our band are, then you may believe that it is all your fault. Though, if you are with the Black Road it is all pre-written and what will happen is already decided.
I found Winterbirth a hard but satisfying read. Ruckley, it seems, has the story all thought out in so much so that he can’t help it pouring out into sections of over-detailed explanation. Not that I can think of a better way of doing it. Everything is there for a reason – there are no meaningless wanderings through forests – though there is a lot of walking that takes place.
The quest element is quite simple – first they need to escape and then they need to find their way back as safely as possible. Not that it’s simple with danger at every turn and there is no where to get back to.
I enjoyed the bands journey and reading the history of the places they passed through. There is also magic in this world. It is however kept frustratingly enigmatic and hidden that I couldn’t really handle what those who wield it can and can’t do.
This could be considered an overly long introduction to a trilogy, but at this level of the fantasy genre this may be expected, as by the end this story is only just beginning.
If there was something that kept me reading even when I was getting swamped in the detail was Ruckley’s excellent characterisation – all the characters are solidly portrayed even those whose blood flows a few pages after they are mentioned. He does have a way of making you care about them and you may find yourself gasping about how merciless he is.
Winterbirth ends on a high level of expectation and I really can’t wait for the next one in the series and to find out the true potential of magic in this tale.
I’ve been mulling over this review for the last couple of days and I need to a add a few points I think.
This is a complex book. It reminds me of a chess board with all it’s pieces in play. I’m not used to reading stories with such a big playing area and that’s really when I mean when it’s a ‘hard’ read – you need to keep the board very much in your mind whilst you’re reading. If, like me, you are not used to reading complex stories with a complex history be prepared that you need to be reading when you are fully conscious throughout.
I think that saying this is an ‘over-long introduction’ and has ‘over-detailed explanation’ is a being a little too harsh on the book. Both stem from wanting to get back to the main characters and their story rather than wanting to know more about what is happening everywhere else.
The greatest strength in Winterbirth is the characterisation of all the characters – they feel real – rather being wooden pawns- they could actually live in this world. Something is learnt from each shift in focus and for me it’s probably more than I need to know – hence the the ‘over-detailed’ – but it works in the structure of the novel.
As for the ‘over-long introduction’ – just I was getting used to the world, it’s characters and the chess game – the ending suggests that it’s actually another game we’ve been playing – and for me this was a little frustrating but thinking about it there are more than enough hints about what might be going on.
So overall, Winterbirth is a confidently written, well plotted, excellently characterised tale, that needs a good level of concentration and a strong stomach – but leaves you wanting more with a lot of questions that just have to be answered in the next book.