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Friday, July 17, 2015

Winter's Reach by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Winter's Reach HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released six novels in about fourteen months. He currently lives in Joielt, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Pope Benignus is dying, and the man who takes his throne will hold the reins of an empire. Conspiracies swirl like shadows around Livia, the pope's daughter, who refuses to be anyone's pawn: chasing the whispers of a deadly coup, she vows to expose the truth and save her church from disaster. Livia has secrets of her own, though, and one wrong move could cost her life and her soul.

Felix is the scion of a dying merchant house, a man with just one chance to save his family and the woman he loves. His last hope lies in the snowbound hell of Winter's Reach, a former prison colony turned "free city" under a brutal tyrant's reign.

Livia and Felix have never crossed paths, but they've both been snared in a far greater web than they can imagine. They -- along with a pair of veteran bounty hunters, an exiled politician, and a sadistic coven of witches -- are cogs in one man's apocalyptic plan for revenge. A plan which, if it succeeds, will leave an entire nation in flames.

FORMAT/INFO: Winter’s Reach is 367 pages long divided over fifty-six chapters. Narration is in the third-person, via Felix Rossini, Werner Holst, Lodovico Marchetti, Amadeo Lagorio, Simon Koertig, Livia Benignus, Basilio Grimaldi, Mari Renault, Hedy, Renata, Bear, Dante Uccello and a couple of other minor characters. This is the first volume of The Revanche Cycle.

November 11, 2014 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of Winter’s Reach and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a vast character cast, and focusing on political, religious and magical intrigue. The Revanche Cycle is very reminiscent of the works of Jennifer Fallon, Tad Williams and Daniel Abraham.

ANALYSIS: This is the first volume of the Revanche cycle and is set in a world that's very reminiscent of medieval Italy. The story features a multitude of POVs and is an epic fantasy that slowly introduces the world and magic system. One of the first POV characters we come across is Felix Rossini who is the second scion of a house in financial tatters. Felix has plans to rescue his house's worth and fortunes however he has to be taciturn as he has a secret worth protecting. The next POVs are Werner Holst and Mari Renault, a pair of mercenaries who are horrified by their last job, which resulted in the burning of an (alleged) teenage witch.

Lodovico Marchetti is a merchant lord who is planning quite a few things in the city of Mirenze and has things in motion that will unsettle things across the lands. Simon Koertig is his accountant who also doubles up as an assassin who likes to kill in numerous ways. Amadeo Lagorio is a priest who serves as confidant and confessor to the dying Pope Benignus. Lastly there's Livia who is the first born papal child who is forced to abandon her leadership credentials simply because of the patriarchal society.

These are the major POV characters and there are a few more introduced but basically the plot hinges around the actions of the afore-mentioned characters as well as the plot twists that have been set by the author. The primary draw of the story is the strong characterization, beginning with both male and female characters, as well as the antagonists and protagonists. The author absolutely nails down these characters and as each chapter focuses upon a new one we get a very multi-faceted view of the world within. This approach was very reminiscent of George R.R. Martin’s ASOIAF, while Craig Schaefer cannot claim the same high level prose, he does emulate GRRM’s ability to make the reader invested in the POV of the character they are currently reading.

My favorite characters were Mari, Livia, Felix and Simon. Mari is a person suffering from a severe form of PTSD due to her family dying in a horrible manner. Livia bristles against the patriarchal traps set by the society and is forced to watch her father's crown pass own to her drunken sot of a brother. Felix is an honest person forced to take gargantuan risks to save his family, marry the love of his life and possibly make the Rossinni clan a successful one again. Lastly there's also Simon who while being a murderer is very intriguing with his narrow-minded focus and multi-variate ways to kill people. These characters and others truly make the story that much more shining. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the story wherein we truly get a 360-degree view into the happenings of the story.

The next positive factor is the top-notch plot pace as frequently we end a chapter and the next chapter easily shifts the focus on to a new person thereby amping up the tension as well as intrigue. The overall plot while seemingly predictable has plenty of plot twists to keep readers guessing and ultimately take quite an unorthodox route to the climax. I enjoyed how the author explored the various roles especially vis-a-vis the female characters stuck in a patriarchal society. Both Livia and Mari are quite fierce, capable characters who strive to make the best of their sordid situations. I believe the author has special plans for both of them and I'm very excited to see what arcs they end up taking.

While expecting a medieval epic fantasy, the author certainly undercuts expectations by providing a very fast-paced character driven story that while being fantasy has magic in very small amounts (This was very GRRM-esque). Of course there are hints provided about the true nature of the world, also there's a fantastic sequence over water that features a creature that is sure to provide terrify readers. Also there's a certain sound associated with the creature and I can't wait to read how the author imagines it to be.

The storyline is also not without its flaws, the background history of the world isn’t really explored and only hints are strewn through. The magic system also seems to be a tad confusing and I hope the author shines a light on it in the sequel volumes. Lastly as with any fantasy series, a map is always a plus. This series doesn't have one and as a cartophile, I was disappointed.

CONCLUSION: Overall this story ends on a strong note and leaves almost all characters in certain places because of which readers will be compelled to pick up the second volume The Instruments Of Control. I believe this is book one on a series of four books and I started reading the second book almost immediately after I finished this one. Winter' Reach is the start of a fascinating political fantasy that will be sure to find its fans. Make sure you graba copy and enjoy Craig Schaefer's magnificent skills.



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