Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Brian Ruckley


From the outset Winterbirth emanates a kind of chilly northern machismo. It's a world split by religious and racial division. On the one hand there's the Black Road, who follow an inflexible creed of predestination and believe that once they rid the world of troublesome unbelievers then the Gods will return. Part of their group belongs to an organisation known as The Hunt, which has more than a hint of the Inquisition about it. Just about everyone else stands against this extreme and fearless cult.

Most of the huanin (in this universe, human) world is divided into Bloods (tribes or clans), ruled over by Thanes. Much of Winterbirth follows the fate of the Lannis-Haig Blood, which shares a border with the Bloods of the Black Road. Thanks to a drawn-out war in the far south, most of their warriors are away and their defences are in poor shape. But the Black Road has been thoroughly routed in the past, and has not attacked in decades.

Orisian is a nephew of the Lannis-Haig Thane, and he's important enough to have his own shieldman, Rothe. This story begins as a fairly typical fantasy, set in a medieval type of world, with a lot of emphasis on wars and politics, interspersed with hunting and trekking. This is a novel firmly within the high fantasy genre, but references to magic are very subtle to begin with, and it's the exclusive preserve of one very select group of people.

The na'kyrim are hybrids of huanin and kyrinin, an elf-like race. Huanin and kyrinin rarely mix and often despise each other, and the na'kyrim are often distrusted because people are afraid of their unique abilities. Winterbirth is permeated by a grim atmosphere and filled with settings where persecution is endemic and mercy seems unlikely.

Unfortunately this is also quite a sprawling book, mainly due to some laboured pacing rather than the amount of action it packs in. The story is told from a lot of perspectives, which tends to have the effect of leaving you rooting for nobody in particular, and a little confused. Brian Ruckley has used some particularly bad naming conventions, sprinkling random apostrophes with abandon and frequently giving people and places very similar sounding names. It's not hopelessly annoying, but it is noticeable and it would have been better if the author had taken just a little more care on this matter.

This book does require some patience to get into, especially since it seems as though Ruckley is really only warming up. It doesn't come to a very conclusive ending, and it seems as if the author is saving most of the high drama for later on in the series. There's the kernel of a good story here, in spite of the book's flaws. If you can tolerate a sometimes languid pace and an atmosphere that can be oppressively serious, and you have a taste for fairly brutal, warlike fantasy you might enjoy this.

Book Details

Year: 2006

Categories: Books


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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson