Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

Genre: Epic Fantasy
Pub. Date: September 2007
ISBN: 0316067695
ISBN-13: 9780316067690
Format: Paperback, 576pp
Publisher: Orbit
Series: Godless World Series

Brian Ruckley�s Winterbirth could be called a new Viking mythology. Filled with cold, windswept mountains, ruling thanes and tribal thinking, much of Winterbirth�s story will remind the reader of Old Norse myths. Drawing on his life in Scotland, Ruckley has vividly portrayed this alternate reality.

In the land of Winterbirth, Thanes (i.e. chieftains) rule and people swear their lives to these men in order to gain protection and sanctions. The Lannis-Haig Thanes of the Glas Valley have an added duty. They must prevent the Gyre Thanes, believers in the Black Road, from re-conquering the Glas Valley that they once ruled, now under the care of the Lannis-Haigs. The Black Road is a cult that believes that the gods (who had left the world centuries before) will return to the world, should everyone be converted to their beliefs. (Anyone see a hint of fascist Islamic dogma?)

The story follows Orisian, nephew to the Lannis-Haig Thane, Taim a general under the Lannis-Haig�s and several other characters both good and evil. When the Gyre thanes sweep down from their stronghold into the Glas Valley, the Lannis Haig Bloods are thrown into upheaval, and Orisian is forced to flee.

The majority of the novel is a standard, life is good, something changes, chaos reigns, and then the rightful heir is forced on the run, sort of fantasy. There are few fight scenes, and most of those are run and dodge sort of scenes. Orisian only has a knife for the majority of the novel, never even picking up a sword in defense.

What Ruckley has spent the majority of his time doing is world-building and describing beautiful landscapes. The social structure of the lands in Winterbirth is complex and through, so Ruckley is forced to spen a great deal of time describing things like the philosophy of the Black Road, the interactions of the thanes to the High Thane, the history that came before the beginning of the Third Age (in which this book is set), and the personalities of the characters. There are several other races besides humans (known as Huanin) only on of which, the Kyrinin is really explored. Ruckley makes these elf-based characters alien enough to make the story not seem a copycat of other fantasy novels, and their societal structure and interactions also had to be explored.

The one thing I loved about this books was Ruckley�s vivid descriptions of the landscapes. He beautifully talks about windswept rocks on mountains, rushing streams, dank bogs, and thriving villages.

Stylistically, I had a little trouble in the beginning understanding the social structure of the world, but continuing to read helped clear that up, and Ruckley’s switching back and forth between characters in the first hundred or so pages happened a little too often (every couple pages or so) for my taste, but as the book progressed he settled in and the scenes were paced a bit better.

This novel is an introduction to a world that is based in Scottish and Norse legend, but is unique and different. Being the first novel of a trilogy, much of its time is spent world-building, but it is a lush and vibrant world. While the plot of this first book is basic in its form, the implications it leaves for what comes in the following novels is not. Their is a significant clash of ideologies, making the story relevant to our own day and age, but Winterbirth maintains a timelessness and strangeness that make it enjoyable to read. You will be intrigued by this debut novel from Brian Ruckley.

Read my interview with Brian Ruckley.

Comments are closed.