Tuesday, 14 April 2009

‘Midwinter’ – Matthew Sturges (Pyr)


What is it about certain book covers that make me want to read the book as soon as I see them? I don’t know (and maybe that’s a topic for another post) but as soon as I saw the cover for ‘Midwinter’ I just knew that I would have to find myself a copy. The artwork looks gorgeous and there is something about fantasy literature either set in winter, or its onset, that really captures my imagination.
All of these thoughts going round my head and I hadn’t even picked the book up yet! Once I did though I quickly realised that my initial feelings were well founded and I was in for a treat of a read...

As a captain in the Seelie army Mauritaine was a war hero until an accusation of treason led to his imprisonment in Crere Sulace, a mountain prison far from the City Emerald. However, the prospect of life without parole has suddenly become a chance to earn a royal pardon but this involves a suicide mission so secret that Mauritaine and his band of handpicked companions are not even told what it is...
All they know is that time is running out to make it to a rendezvous across the contested lands, magical territory even more dangerous than the traitor in their midst and the massed armies of the Unseelie Queen that are gathering on the border. There are dangers closer to home that Mauritaine must also negotiate if he is stand any chance of making it through alive...

Sturges goes all out to bring it home to the reader that while his characters (barring the human physicist Satterly) may look human; this is where any similarity ends. The inhabitants of the Seelie and Unseelie realms are faeries and their ways are totally incomprehensible to humans. This approach works both for and against the reader... Sturges gives his reader a world in which I was more than happy to get lost in for hours at a time. No detail is spared regarding descriptions of the cities and their inhabitants while snippets of Fae legends and philosophical discourse serve to flesh out the picture further. These elements combine to form a picture of a world that just begs to be explored.

The only problem with Sturges’ approach though is that he occasionally makes his characters so ‘alien’ that there is nothing for the reader to get a hold of in terms of identifying with characters such as Mauritaine and Lord Silverdun. Silverdun in particular is an interesting example as far as this goes seeing as he was imprisoned as a result of a scheme so Byzantine that not even he understands it. While this is a great way of showing the reader the politics of the Fae world there’s not a lot else for the reader to get hold of in terms of understanding why Silverdun behaves the way he does. This approach sometimes also results in the prose itself becoming a little dry and difficult to follow...

Stick with it though as ‘Midwinter’ overcomes these obstacles to become a book that any fantasy fan will get a lot out of. You may not be able to get to grips with the characters, as much as you would like, but there is no denying the sense of urgency that leaps out off the page and drives the story along a very fast pace. The constant plotting and scheming underneath the surface adds to this urgency as well as giving the reader the best possible reason to keep reading. There are loads of questions that all need answering and it’s all credit to Sturges that these are the kind of questions where you care enough about the answers to invest more time in reading the book.
You also cannot deny the dangers that our travellers must face on their journey and these make for some great moments where anything could happen and spectacle is the order of the day!

Once you get into the swing of how ‘Midwinter’ goes about its business then, like me, you’ll find it to be a book that’s very enjoyable and well worth your time. The ending suggests the possibility of sequels and I’d be very interested to see where Mauritaine’s story goes next.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

4 comments:

Hagelrat said...

Do you know who the cover artist is?
I have bought loads of books just because Chris McGrath did the cover art.

ediFanoB said...

I know what you mean. I needed to buy ESCAPEMENT by Jay lake just because of this wonderful airship on the cover.

By the way I like the art of Christian McGrath.

Lou Anders said...

Chris McGrath IS the Midwinter cover artist. He'll be doing the follow-up too, The Office of Shadow.

The Mad Hatter said...

I love the cover and McGrath as well. So far Midwinter is my debut of the year. I just put my review up as well.