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Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Winterstrike" by Liz Williams (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “WinterstrikeHERE
Read Reviews via The Guardian

INTRODUCTION:Winterstrike” is the first novel that I’ve read by Liz Williams. I bought it based on a recommendation in the SFFWorld Forum and enjoyed it so much that I ordered four more novels by Ms. Williams that I intend to read as soon as they arrive at my door. I’m also eagerly looking forward to the next installment in the trilogy that was started in “Winterstrike”.

SETTING: In the far future Mars and Earth have been changed almost beyond recognition due to many upheavels with biotech and nanotech. On Mars men have been edited out of the genetic code for a while now, while women live in city-states with Winterstrike one of the most powerful. Led by a Matriarchy, Winterstrike is often in conflict with nearby Caud. There are also many genetically created races, mostly from humans and various animal species, called The Changed which includes “men revenants” like vulpen, awts, and hyenae as well as such powerful and feared creatures like the demotheas of legend. The Changed are barely tolerated in the cities of Mars which are policed by the fearsome semi-artificial women warriors known as Excissieres, so they tend to congregate underground or in unpopulated wastes, mountains and swamps...

The story follows the adventures of three young women from the aristocracy of Winterstrike. The two sisters, Essegui and Leretui Harn, are daughters of Allegheta who is a very ambitious woman that wants to become a Matriarch. So, she makes some secret deals with Generra, a shady but well connected sorceress/spymaster, and the Matriarchy in return for advancement. Allegheta and her partner, Thea, also have a third daughter, the young child Cantelei who resembles the strange Leretui quite a lot.

Hestia Mar, the cousin and childhood friend of Essegui and Leretui, is the daughter of a Matriarch, but she has always been adventurous and resented the strict upbringing typical of Winterstrike aristocracy. Since Hestia has psychic powers, including the ability to steal/return souls, she left her rigid home and found employment as an operative of Generra, undertaking undercover missions in various Martian cities. In her latest mission, Hestia visits the city of Caud—which is on the verge of war with Winterstrike—in search of blueprints to a secret weapon that are rumored to exist the ruins of the city’s great library…

FORMAT/INFO: The hardcover edition of “Winterstrike” stands at 358 pages divided over thirty-seven numbered chapters which are titled by narrator and location. The narration is mostly first-person present tense alternating between the voices of Essegui Harn and Hestia Mar, while the several ‘Interludes’ that appear in the book are presented in the third person via Leretui/Shorn or the Centipede Queen and her entourage. The ending nicely wraps up the main thread of the novel while setting up the next installment in the trilogy. The trilogy itself is set in the same world as Liz Williams’Banner of Souls” which was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

September 5, 2008 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “Winterstrike” via
PanMacmillan. The cover art is provided by Lee Gibbons.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:Winterstrike” takes a while to get into, especially for a novice to the universe—Banner of Souls, which I intend to read next, takes place in the same setting as this book, though at an earlier time—but once you start understanding the workings of the world and start following the adventures of our heroines, it’s easy to get hooked by the story that Ms. Williams has crafted and her very well-imagined fantasy-like setting…

At the annual Martian festival of Ombre, Leretui transgresses the moral codes of Winterstrike by publicly consorting with a vulpen, putting a kink in Allegheta's status plans, which gets Leretui imprisoned in her room and stripped of her name—from then on she is called Shorn. A year later, after the same festival, Leretui/Shorn mysteriously disappears and both the sheltered Essegui Harn and the adventurous Hestia Mar are tasked to find her.

In the meantime on Earth, a powerful ruler known as the Centipede Queen—some of “The Changed” live in peace with humanity on Earth—prepares to journey to Mars in search of Leretui since the missing girl is connected with omens about the stirring of ancient and dark powers…

Back on Mars, as Essegui tries to follow Leretui's path from Winterstrike, we see through Harn’s eyes an assortment of strange—sometimes wonderful, sometimes dark, always interesting—places and imagined creations that inhabit the planet. There are ghosts, wards, haunt-tech—which is dark magic by another name—as well as computers/phones called scribes, flying ships, starships that travel the “Eldritch Realm” between planets, and much more.

Hestia meanwhile, hooks up with the “spirit” of an archive from the destroyed Caud library that manifests itself as a strange warrior. Later, Hestia also encounters a mysterious warrior/pirate/marauder named Rubirosa whose loyalties are uncertain, but is very useful in a scrap.

Since Leretui is the key in the plans of several quite powerful factions for reasons we come to slowly understand, the two cousins are involved in many different adventures that occur on both Mars and Earth.

Also involved in the mix are the aforementioned Centipede Queen; her subjects; and The Changed, some of whom start following a “reborn” mythical leader called Mantis who supposedly will lead them to their “rightful” position on Mars and overthrow the oppressive Matriarchies; but the central theme of the novel always revolves around the enigmatic Leretui/Shorn and her destiny.

The one small niggle I have with the book is that the voices of the two narrators, Essegui and Hestia, are barely distinguishable from one another, though they do grow on you. Otherwise, Liz Williams’Winterstrike” was a very pleasant surprise and comes highly recommend…


ediFanoB said...


Gothic science fiction? What's that?

After reading your excellent review I'm still not sure what does this mean.

I don't read science fiction very often.
But this book by Liz Williams awakened my interest.

I also took a look at her other novels. There are some more which I have to add to my to-read list.

Liviu, you did a great job.

Liviu said...

Gothic SF - Fractured, bleak, strange landscapes. Weird characters, tech.
Fantasy-like feeling.

Sometimes not that easy to get into but if you like this stuff and the writing of the author, really worth it.

Winterstrike was the first Liz Williams book I read - heard about her before but never checked her books out for some reason - and then I ordered Darkland, Bloodmind and Ghost Sister which are another series like this, though less weird and more political -

Robert reviewed books 2 and 3 Darkland and Bloodmind which are a duology, the first one Ghost Sister, her debut, being earlier, unrelated same universe - and I loved Darkland a lot, reading Bloodmind currently and planning to read Ghost Sister soon.

I also got Poison Master and Banner of Souls and plan to read both too sooner rather than later and of course the sequel to Wintestrike is buy/read asap.

SciFiGuy said...

I know it's shallow...but hey I liked the cover :)

Michael Russo said...

Think science fiction meets apocalypse, with a few sprinklings of the golden age of grotesque. That's Gothic Science Fiction.

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