Winterbirth Hardcover – Oct 31 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Scottish author Ruckley's outstanding fantasy debut, the first installment of the Godless World trilogy, introduces a sprawling realm abandoned by the gods after two races united to destroy a third. The peoples left behind struggle with centuries-old prejudices and unresolved conflicts that threaten to destroy them all. The start of winter is traditionally a time of celebration, but when the elflike Kyrinin and religious fanatics called Inkallim interrupt the festivities at Castle Kolglas with a masterfully planned attack, the bloodshed is just the first move in an apocalyptic war that won't end until the world itself is unmade. As Ruckley chronicles the plight of numerous characters through an increasingly chaotic landscape, he develops unsubtle allegories to recent world history and some of humankind's more obvious shortcomings like bigotry, greed and apathy. The author's unapologetically stark yet darkly poetic narrative displays a refreshing lack of stereotypical genre conventions, ensuring a fervent audience of epic fantasy fans looking for something innovative in a genre that can be anything but. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Scotsman Ruckley's first novel launches a promising trilogy set in the unromanticized medieval Highlands. The gods and their magic have departed, and grim feuds and endless skirmishing prevail as the weather gets ever colder. Chief among feuding clans are the Haigs, and chief among their warriors is a thane in whom some of the old powers may be awakening. This isn't necessarily good news for the Haig clan, for those powers will make their already murderous battles even grislier. But it isn't bad news for readers, since it makes the book much more difficult to put down. Green, Roland --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
I learned about Winterbirth while browsing through the various threads on asoiaf.westeros.org. Some readers there opined that fans of George R. R. Martin would probably enjoy this one. Upon reflection, I agree with their assessment. Yet I wish to clarify one thing: Winterbirth is nothing like A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of story. In style and tone, however, Winterbirth is similar to Martin's series. It's a dark and gritty fantasy; don't expect humour and bantering dialogues in this novel. And not unlike GRRM, Ruckley is not averse to killing off his characters.
This book is a fine example of good worldbuilding, even though we only catch a glimpse in this first volume. Still, the author provides many hints which indicate that this universe has a lot more depth. A past not yet buried offers a few fascinating glimpses which truly piqued my curiosity. The dissension among the True Bloods was a bit predictable at times, though.
I enjoyed the way magic is subdued to some extent -- again very similar to the manner with which Martin portrays it. The na'kyrim resemble Katherine Kurtz's Deryni in many ways. The storylines involving the Bloods of the Black Road and the Inkallim were my favourites.Read more ›
This book was touted as something good to read if you like GRRM's "Song of Ice and Fire". I was disappointed. I tried to finish this book, but I just couldn't. Maybe I'll go back to it at some point, but with Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and GRRM to keep me busy, I doubt it.
The names in this book were just ridiculous. I understand wanting to have names that reflect the societies involved, but they were simply too distracting. After reading the fiftieth name that is 5 words long and looks like "k'lthrazk'tnar" I got tired. Maybe the story is fantastic, but the names needed an editor to get them changed.
This book is not for everyone. The people who like it, LOVE it, but it is definitely not for me, so take care to read a sample chapter somewhere before buying. I usually find myself agreeing with Patrick St-Denis, but it seems our opinions diverge when we run into this kind of fantasy (whatever you might call it). As I said, those who like this book, love it, as is the case with the Malazan books. I cannot personally recommend them, however.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I think that the author wants to eschew a clear-cut good versus evil story; however Kanin and Wain are too grim for the Bloods of the Black Road to seem like anything other than bad guys. Ruckley does a better job of humanizing Aeglyss; although he is a cliché, I suspect he will be the most interesting character of the series.
The premise of a godless world is intriguing, but it does not impact the world in a significant way. I think that the absence of the gods should be felt more in the story. The author tries to personalize his world by calling elves "Kyrinin" and magic "The Shared," but his efforts at distinction are mostly weak. Despite the author's debt to Tolkien (Inurian could be Gandalf's long-lost twin), thankfully nothing resembling Orcs make an appearance. Ruckley provides a lot of history and background, some of it unnecessary. For example, if Whreinin and Saolin are not in the story, why mention them?
I applaud the author on his treatment of Anyara. Some authors seem to revel in depravity, especially when women are targets (Robert Newcomb's The Fifth Sorceress comes to mind), but Ruckley exhibits commendable restraint. In general, he avoids gore and gratuity, which bodes well for the series.
While Ruckley won't write George R.R. Martin out of a job, he's a good enough writer. I'll read what he writes next.
The first many pages are dedicated entirely to background - we witness a variety of events that take place in the long ago, but that have shaped in a significant way the `present' in which most of the book takes place. These sections provide context for the events that come later, and in this way make the world seem more realized than is typical for a fantasy genre story. Give author Brian Ruckley credit, he knows his world and its history.
However, like one often finds in an academic's attempt to make history interesting, you find two things missing: One, a focus on a specific dramatic tension, and two, the gritty details. A variety of moving pieces play out their parts in Winterbirth, none really taking primacy. To be sure, each constituency represented in the book has its own demons, its own goals, its own agendas. However, to paraphrase the characters in `The Incredibles', when everyone is special, nobody is. Winterbirth _is_ like real life that way - but frankly, there's a reason more people read novels than histories. When I mention details, I don't merely mean the details of the events taking place, but detail of the characters, detail of the environment. Human beings sense smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. Each of these senses should be engaged by the author to bring the reader into the tale, but Mr. Ruckley rarely engages more than three of these. As a result, I often felt as though I were looking down on a series of events - almost like a chessboard - rather than looking through the eyes of the characters.
This is, in fact, where Winterbirth fails to live up to the example set by the likes of George RR Martin's works - `real' seeming series of events, multiple characters of moral complexity - but in GRRM you truly sit behind the eyeballs of each character and so become very invested in what happens to them. Mr. Ruckley never quite achieves that intimacy.
Add to these challenges a significant number of pages dedicated to events with no apparent bearing on the current story, and what might have been an exciting read at times becomes a total slog. Meaning, "It was tough to slog through some of those pages."
Assuming Mr. Ruckley continues his series in the vein of Winterbirth, it would be a neat trick someday to see someone write a `historical fiction' treatment of what, as I said, comes across more like a novelization of history. If one were to pair down about 3/5 of what is here, and then expanded with brutal and gory detail what is left, I think you'd have a 5 star tale. The world and its events presented here are certainly exciting, it's just a pity they're not written that way.
There are many things worse than Winterbirth on the fantasy genre bookshelves. I'll buy the second book in the series - but I will do so with a certain amount of trepidation. If I feel the same way about that one I do this one, I'll stop there.
If you haven't read Winterbirth, I would wait until some reviews of the second are posted and make your decision to purchase at that time.
The story is... decent, but it takes awhile to get to that point. I don't agree with some of the extreme arguments about the beginning. Ruckley does a fair job, setting the world and backdrop that influences the rest of the book. While the story may be gritty in some parts, it's not done so as to be entirely original, nor does it greatly improve the use of realism. When someone writes a story with historical overtones, set in a genre called "dark fantasy," it's kind of a given that it needs to be realistic. Anyway, the story drags a bit until the last quarter where it, and strangely the quality of writing, picks up and finishes with more of a whimper than a bang. Moreover, while the last quarter saves my desire to read a sequel, it doesn't instill in me a great need to buy it in hardback.
The characters take awhile to get interested in. They're written in such a way as to seem less important than the world they live in, the context of events, and the even the scenery. As mentioned before, it really isn't until the last quarter of the book that the author seemingly puts a little more importance in the characters than everything else. They are dry, sometimes uninteresting. Although others may put great importance on Ruckley's use of morally ambiguous character types, it isn't something incredibly well fleshed out, highly original, or as deeply refreshing as other might have you believe. It's...decent.
The misc. in a fantasy novel can make it or break it for me. These are the things that are common, sometimes necessary, in todays market. Examples would be the names, the maps, the extra information that might fill in the whole when your creating a complex world. Winterbirth's names were frustrating for half the book. Any author should realize that when you have major/minor characters that have similar names, it can be frustrating. It should be Fantasy 101. Everything about a world is in the authors head and no where else. When introducing that world to others, similar names confuse us until we get used to it and have enough info to differentiate. Neither should they be nearly impossible to pronounce, and if they are, the majority should not be nearly impossible to pronounce. I also understand the need to outsource the drawling of your map but as a fan, details are important. It doesn't have to be precise, but major geographical regions (epic woods, epic mountains) should have more than just names. There really shouldn't be great blank spots, unless within the world those spots aren't known. The time line in the back of the book is nice, but the history of the world in Winterbirth is not delved into so much that it's really needed.
As I said in the beginning, it was frustrating separating my feelings of the reviews and of the book. It was not "Heroic fantasy splashed with 300-style gore." There was not nearly enough detail in the battle scenes to even be in the same house as 300. It also certainly does not put the "epic back in epic fantasy." Epic implies greater reaches in story and character development than this first novel does. Maybe that will change, but in no way does Winterbirth set the stage for EPIC...prologue foreshadowing notwithstanding. Winterbirth is not a "tour-de-force." It is not a rival to Martin, and it won't chill your bones with the idea of a godless world of blood and ice. All in all...decent.
"The world breeds no heroes now."
This line from the novel WINTERBIRTH, by Brian Ruckley, sums up my main observation after reading the novel. WINTERBIRTH is marketed as both Epic Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means we should have heroes in some sort of capacity. It also means we should have blood and battle...and in high quantities. Epic Fantasy usually involves some sort of epic quest, or a huge, all-engrossing plot that the heroes must stop. Heroic Fantasy means we have heroic and tragic last-stands.
Unfortunately, there was nothing epic about this fantasy, and as for battles...can someone please explain to me why the first battle in the novel happens more than half-way through the book? OR WHY THERE WERE NO OTHER MAJOR BATTLES AT ALL IN THE ENTIRE NOVEL? It was enough to make me think I was taking crazy-pills.
Call me bitter. Call me angry. It's ok, because I am. There are so many other novels out there that I could have been reading; novels that I would be proud to review. WINTERBIRTH took me away from those novels.
It's not that the writing is poor. It is actually quite good, and it alone kept me reading. But what is Heroic Fantasy without the blood and sword? In a word: boring. Ruckley's novel is at its best when the characters (with whom we have absolutely no attachment - another problem in itself) are wading into their limited engagements of fighting. The paperback of this novel counts 688 pages - epic in length for sure, but bland as tofu. Maybe 20 pages are of Heroic Fantasy mayhem. The marketing on the novel suggests Ruckley's work is in the tradition of the late and great David Gemmell. I believe Gemmell would scoff at only 20 pages of action in a novel.
In addition, I feel a little taken advantage of. The prologue to the book mentions a race that sounds awesome, only then to tell us they were the victims of a genocidal crusade. So...no cool race. Another of the races that we have frequent contact with in the novel sound, act, and look suspiciously like elves...only they have an unpronounceable name...but don't worry, they speak a foreign language that looks like elvish, only it isn't. Look, if it's an elf, call it an elf (this is where we thank the UK author James Barclay for his honesty...not to mention copious amounts of ACTION).
As you can tell, I'm frustrated. I wanted to like this novel, but that proved an impossibility. This isn't to say that I can't enjoy a novel that doesn't have action. Take R. Scott Bakker's first novel, THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE. Astonishing in its greatness, and very little action throughout. I just felt that in this particular book it's absence wasn't outweighed by other cool stuff.
I won't be picking up the sequels unless authors I trust tell me to.
Recommended Age: 13 and up...if you can stand it.
Violence: The few times we get it, it is great, and it is brutal. Too bad we rarely get any.
Sex: Alluded to, but never shown.
The gods got fed-up with their creation and left it to its own demise long ago and this world feels like just that. It's a cold, dark, and violent, place that's full of rugged highlands, foreboding forests, and misty, frigid coastlines. Cross-generational feuds among Bloods, are the cause of constant unrest among the human races. The Kyrinnin race of forest dwelling people, not only must face the sometimes violent prejudice of the humans but have their own tribal wars to content with. Now, the banished fanatical Black Road Bloods are invading and a lust for vengeance in one lone cross-bred human/Kyrnnin is awakening a dark force with a strength that hasn't been known in living memory.
As I read this book, the story's feeling of hopelessness that accompanies a godless place, just kind of crept through like a chill draft that sends a shiver up one's spin.
I only have two complaints about this book; 1. The names are long, hard to pronounce, and similar. While on one hand, this adds some realism to the story but on the other, I became easily confused at times as to who is who and where is where. 2. There is a huge lacking of visual description, which seem to me, to be a trend in a lot of the new fantasy. While I understand authors may be trying to distance their work from past epics that wasted page after page on boring, gratuitous details. I think fantasy, more so then other genres, requires a certain amount of visuals due to the totally made-up worlds with made-up races, creatures, and other things.
Over-all this is a good story that's well-worth a read, especially by those who already like this kind of fantasy epic. It's not a first book that just "blew-me away". However, it seems like its building up momentum of getting better as it goes. Which is a great relief compared to all the series that start-out strong, but progressively become less interesting with each following book.