Monday, February 18, 2008

50 Book Challenge #11: Winterbirth

Aaaaand . . . back to the poorly written fantasy. That's not fair, really; the writing here is serviceable. The trouble with this book, which is essentially a Norse-inflected Game of Thrones crossed with the Halfblood Chronicles, is that it starts too slowly. The title is the name of a holiday. We see the characters preparing for the festivities. We see the family of northern lords rejoicing in the birth of an heir, complete with anachronistic dialog about how great it is to have grandchildren. The first 100-200 pages of this are the literary equivalent of watching the redshirts in a war movie pull out pictures of their sweethearts before going on patrol. Gee, I wonder if this peaceful idyll will be shattered?

Once the killing finally starts (guess when!), courtesy of your friendly neighborhood religious fanatics and their elven woodwight allies, things pick up, but Ruckley doesn't take enough pages from the Martin playbook and it's obvious after a while that some of the characters will survive, regardless of how implausible that survival may become. It's all setup for future books, of course, but unlike The Name of the Wind, the structure is fairly obvious and therefore it's difficult to lose one's self in the story. By the end, however, things became less predictable and the device of ending with an assassination cliffhanger worked just as it was intended: I was drawn in.

I snark a bit on the "woodwights," but the allusions to other races, one of which was exterminated by two others in a genocide that supposedly drove the gods away from their creations, lend a depth to what would otherwise be a fairly banal setting. Ruckley actually does a good job of making the elf-like race genuinely inhuman, with a generous dollop of the savagery most fantasy authors channel solely to their orc analogues. Their motivations for allying with one human faction are not clear, though, and there'd better be more explanation coming. I also hope that in future books we learn more about other races and that one or two of the Whreinin survived and make an appearance. Recommended for fantasy junkies.
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