Winterbirth is the first book in the Godless World Trilogy by Brian Ruckley. I actually read that it had received pretty good reviews and pick it up to see for myself if it is worth the hype.
My impressions were mixed at best. Winterbirth isn’t the best fantasy book you’ll read, but it would be the worst either. However there were some parts of the book which were very strong.
The Godless World setting was very interesting. The book starts off with a heroic stand by the Black Road who stood in the face of certain death so that the rest of their cult could escape. Nothing special except the fact that the Black Road are the bad guys in the book.
The Black Road is a cult who wishes to cleanse all life on the world so that the gods can come back and reset life on their world. And the way to cleanse all life on the world is to kill everyone.
They are the bad guys and the book starts off with a self-sacrificing stand by the bad guys. Not something you see very often and that is one of the main strengths of Winterbirth.
The book and the world it is set in is new, fresh and different. Even the elves in the world are different. Elves are almost a guaranteed presence in fantasy books but Ruckley’s version of elves is more akin to the desert elves of the Dark Sun setting than the normal happy good elves of most other settings.
If anything the Kyrinin elves are the most brutal elves I had ever read. They have no problem killing each other, any humans, or any half-elf they come across and they seemingly prefer to kill you only after heavy torture. They are a truly savage race with a hard to understand alien culture. That’s what makes them so interesting!
The book is packed with action and Ruckley move the story along nicely. When the bloodletting slow the intrigue begins as all sides try to move the situation to their advantage. If this means betrayal, sneak attacks or insults, so be it.
Both the Black Road and the Thanes has a shade of grey to them and each side is totally convinced they are fighting for the right cause. These are hard people who make hard decisions in a bleak world and make no apologies for their decisions.
As good as the setting was, Ruckley’s novel has some problems. The Godless World is fresh but the story isn’t. A young noble who accidentally come into power, has to escape from hostile lands and then lead his people to safety is a pretty run-of-the-mill story.
Another problem I have is the characters in the book. The best fantasy books have characters which draw you in to their lives. Sometimes they are good guys like Rand Al’ Thor (Wheels of Time), sometimes they are bad guys like Jamie Lannister (Songs of Ice and Fire), but there must be character or characters that interest you.
Despite the big cast in Winterbirth, no one here fit the bill. Most of the characters are bland, fitting strictly into their assigned roles of faithful bodyguard, wise doom consul, double-dealing king, loyal sister etc. It doesn’t help that the main character, Orisian, is a boring character. Think of him as Guo Jing in the Return of the Condor Heroes. A young man who will always try to do the right thing despite his desires otherwise.
Winterbirth is mixed bag but there is enough here to make me come back for Bloodheir, the next book in the trilogy. So in the end, I will have to say the book has more ups than downs. Definitely worth a look