Monday, 30 July 2007
‘Winterbirth’ – Brian Ruckley (Orbit Books)
‘Winterbirth’ was one of Orbit’s big releases last year and has finally found it’s way into mass market paperback format (makes it easier for people for me to read it on a packed commuter train). Judging by what I’ve seen on various forums, this is a book that people either really love or really aren’t that bothered about. Having just finished the book I can see what people mean… There is a lot to love but at the same time, a lot to trip a reader up.
In a land very much like medieval Scotland, the Thanes of the South battle against the Thanes of the Black Road (a religious schism) for domination of the land and spiritual salvation. Or do they? Undercurrents beneath the surface hint at more complicated schemes than at first meet the eye. While all this is going on, a power is awakening that will render all these schemes meaningless…
‘Winterbirth’ is the first in a trilogy and this shows in the early stages of the book where the introduction of various names (of people and places) can, and does, confuse the reader with their similarity. This makes for a stodgy read that can put the reader off. I also found the map hard to follow as it showed where people were fleeing to but not where they were fleeing from! If you’ve got this far, don’t give up as all sudden things click into place and step up a couple of gears. It’s almost as if Ruckley suddenly decides that the reader has got enough background information, to be going on with, and that they’re ready for the story!
And what a story it is! It has everything that a fan of high/epic fantasy could possibly want out of a book. Epic battles, mystical forests and long journeys with a hint of magic (but not too much!) waiting in the wings. Ruckley’s world is a harsh unforgiving place and he shows no compromise to the reader’s sensibilities by illustrating just exactly what this means to the inhabitants. No one is safe in a place where even the simple act of living through tumultuous times can have long lasting consequences. I particularly liked the air of ambiguity that Ruckley gives his characters, they all have good reasons for doing what they do and believe that they are right. Faced with such certainty on all sides, the reader really has to think about what side they will support (if any) and this makes me really look forward to the next book (‘The Blood Heir’) and what will happen next. I’m also a big fan of books where authors succeed in putting their own ‘spin’ on established fantasy archetypes, I thought Ruckley did this with great aplomb by introducing his readers to his ‘feral elves’, the Kyrinin.
‘Winterbirth’ is not without it’s flaws but if you persevere with it then I think you’ll be in for a treat of a read. I’d say that Brian Ruckley is definitely going to be one to watch out for in the future…
Eight out of Ten