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Monday, September 10, 2007

"Winterbirth" by Brian Ruckley

Order “WinterbirthHERE
Read An Extract HERE
Read Interviews with Brian Ruckley via A Dribble of Ink, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review + The Book Swede (Part I, Part II)
Read Reviews of “Winterbirth” via The Fantasy Review & Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review

For almost a year now I’ve been hearing about Brian Ruckley’sWinterbirth” which debuted last year via Orbit UK and was just released here in the states thanks to Hachette Book Group USA’s new Orbit imprint. Because of the wait, and the hype—“Winterbirth” has been mentioned in the same breath as Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, David Gemmell and the movie “300”—, my expectations for Mr. Ruckley’s first novel were probably higher than they should have been. Take away the preconceptions though and what you have is an impressive debut that has a lot to offer, especially to anyone who likes fantasy of the more grim and realistic variety.

If I were to label “Winterbirth”, I’d say it’s a cross between historical and epic fantasy. While the novel isn’t an accurate depiction of a certain time period/location, the races that populate Mr. Ruckley’s world are richly detailed, believable, and possess some familiar traits—the Bloods (Huanin) with their thanes, clans and blood oaths reminded me of Vikings while the Kyrinin seemed to harbor some Native American tendencies. Of the fantastical elements in the book, there are legends about gods, the powerful Anain, Whreinin, Saolin, etc., but the magic is largely understated, which is where I could see comparisons to GRRM or David Gemmell. What you do have are na’kyrim, a crossbreed between Huanin and the otherworldly Kyrinin, who are sometimes gifted with the Shared, which is kind of like the Force from Star Wars. Like I said, there’s not much of the magical in the book, but I do expect to see more of it in the sequel. Finally, I just wanted to clarify that while the book offers plenty of graphic violence, “Winterbirth” is actually quite tame. There’s no explicit sex or cursing and some of the action actually shies away from overt depravities such as rape, etc. So while “Winterbirth” is described as a ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ novel, I think it’s a pretty accessible fantasy.

Plot-wise, “Winterbirth” takes a while to get going—about a hundred pages before the action starts heating up and almost halfway before I was really sucked in—with the author focusing mainly on some backstory (why the gods abandoned the world, the Black Road march), developing characters (Orisian, Anyara, Taim Narran, Inurian, Croesan, etc.), and setting up events, which included the True Bloods crushing a rebellious Thane and the Bloods of the Black Road seeking vengeance against the Kilkry & Lannis-Haig Bloods for past defeats and exile 160 years before. Where the book really starts to get interesting is when all of the different factions and subplots are introduced. It can be a little bit confusing, but basically on one side you have Gryvan oc Haig, the High Thane of the True Bloods whose goal is to tame/wipe out the Dargannan, Lannis & Kilkry Bloods so he can turn his full attention on expanding his empire to the south. On the other side, you have the Black Road followers who believe in the Kall—the moment when everyone has been converted to their creed and the world is remade by the gods—and have teamed up with the White Owl Kyrinin in their most serious attempt yet. Complicating matters is a possible alliance between the High Thanes of the True Bloods and the Black Road Bloods, the Inkallim – a separate sect of Black Road adherents – who decide to take matters into their own hands, a hidden group of na’kyrim who become caught up in events, a pending war between the Fox & White Owl Kyrinin tribes, the Lannis & Kilkry Bloods opposing the will of the Haig Blood, and a na’kyrim who might be the greatest threat of all… Fortunately for those who might find all of that a bit daunting, Mr. Ruckley provides a comprehensive list of characters in the book, a couple of detailed maps, and a timeline :D

Speaking of characters, there’s quite a few of them, both major and minor with the narratives alternating between several of them in a third-person point-of-view. Orisian of the Lannis-Haig Blood gets the most face time and was actually one of my least favorite characters in the book—I just thought he was a fairly typical adolescent hero. Of much more interest to me were Mordyn Jerain—the Chancellor of the Haig Blood, the Lore Inkallim Theor, the na’kyrims Inurian & Aeglyss, and the Horin-Gyre Bloods Kanin & Wain. Most of the characters are well-developed and some of them actually go through major changes, while others are unexpectedly killed off. What I liked best about the characters, aside from a couple of exceptions, is that the book doesn’t really have ‘good guys’ & ‘bad guys’…the distinction between good & evil is actually pretty ambiguous and it can be argued that every individual’s actions are somewhat justified. Still, as solid as the characterization is in the book, if there’s one area that Mr. Ruckley seemed a bit weaker in than others, this was it.

As the opening installment in The Godless World Trilogy, Brian Ruckley’sWinterbirth” delivers a meaty (539 pages), dramatic, and entertaining debut that will please a lot of fantasy readers. It’s not as strong as a number of debuts that I’ve read this year (Mark J. Ferrari’sThe Book of Joby”, David Anthony Durham’sAcacia”, Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air”, Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind”) but it’s not that far behind, and I believe Brian Ruckley is one of those authors who’s only going to get better. So here’s looking ahead to June 2008, the tentative release date for “Bloodheir”, the second book in The Godless World Trilogy


Chris, The Book Swede said...

The names, I felt, had quite a Scottish feel, though that is to be expected! I'm glad you liked this one :)

And thanks, too, for your link to my interview with Brian.

I also am looking forward to seeing more magic in the sequel ... Brian has promised it ... maybe even in my own interview - I'm just hoping that my memory isn't as bad as it seems!

very interesting review. It's strange, with a review of Winterbirth, you've made me all the more desperate for The Book of Joby to arrive! ;)

The Book Swede

SQT said...

I'm almost done with this one. I think my view on it is very similar to yours-- I also thought of native Americans when reading about the Kyrinin. I felt this book skirted the edge of greatness and I hope to see more development of the magical elements too.

Tia Nevitt said...

This will be on tomorrow's WINTERBIRTH announcement. I'll also mention your giveaway.

Robert said...


You're welcome on the links :) That is interesting about "The Book of Joby". Hope you get it soon :)


I'm glad you're enjoying the book and I look forward to your review!

And Tia, thanks as always for any linkage :D

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