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"Winterbirth" by Brian Ruckley

Written by Jeremy Shane on Thursday, January 06 2011 and posted in Reviews

Reading Realms takes a look at Brian Ruckley's debut novel "Winterbirth", the start of his Godless World trilogy.

Genre:  Fantasy

Rating: 4 smileys

Cover Blurb:

An uneasy truce exists between the thanes of the True Bloods.

Now, as another winter approaches, the armies of the Black Road march south from their exile beyond the Vale of Stones. For some, war will bring a swift and violent death. Others will not hear the clash of swords or see the opportunity to advance their own ambitions. But all, soon, will fall under the shadow that is descending.

For while the storm of battle rages, one man is following a path that will awaken a terrible power in him -- and his legacy will be written in blood.


I've been holding this book in my hands in the bookstore over and over again through the last few months. It kept catching my interest with the blurb, but I hadn't really heard much about it. Well, when the whole trilogy was out in paperback I finally went ahead and picked them up (so the other two book reviews should be coming as well).

Well, I am very glad I bought this series. You can wait until the trilogy of reviews is complete to see how it all comes together for me, but at this point- after book one- I feel like I've discovered another George Martin for myself.

I realize this is a big comparison, but I really felt the same as when I first read 'A Game of Thrones'. The world did seem like it was a bit more focuses than Martin's, so there are a few less players on the board than in the other, which would probably be better since this is a trilogy and not a never-ending series.

I make the comparison because of a few big things that I love though: Interesting characters that seem real... there are no clear lines between good and bad, even though you could categorize them for the most part if you wanted, the line is hazy there. A hard world... with winter rolling in and being up north it definitely doesn't hurt the comparison, but life in the world seems very rough as well. Not to mention the 'godless world' aspect, here the gods have actually abandoned the world to it's inhabitants to fend for themselves. Politics... like I said before, even though the board seems smaller because of less pieces you still get plenty of political games between the various kings (or thanes as they are called). And last the pacing... it didn't feel like a book set up to follow an arc. It felt like you got inserted into the world at a decent starting point and then things just kinda move along like they would in life.

The story focuses mainly on "The Black Road", which are the exiled "True Bloods" living in the northern wastes; as they move south to attack and try to take back lands they were driven from long ago. From this you get to see how the races of the world: Huanin (humans), Krynan (a race that come across as almost native american in style, but with a more foreign appearance) and na'krym (half-breeds of the two races) interact with each other. You also get introduced to what are the main characters for this book as the Black Road attacks cities and forces characters to rise to the top or die and as the Thane of Thanes in the south works politics to decide how to deal with the attack. From my review the story might sound a bit politics heavy even, but I felt like the characters and war was the main storyline and the politics just a backdrop to what was happening in the world.

For those that like Magic-light stories, you will be pleased with how it is handled in this world. Only the na'krym half-breeds have any abilities with "magic" and due to their past actions they are outcast and rare because they are seen as dangerous meddlers. They refer to magic here as 'The Shared' and it almost has a connected quality to it where you can sense what is happening throughout 'the shared' because it is such a small community of practitioners. Magic here is more like special abilities that vary from na'krym to na'krym. One of the main characters in the story that uses magic simply has the ability to get a good 'read' on people and tell if they are hiding things, lying, etc. Another can use his voice to influence people and get them to do things he suggests. So magic has a very rare and mysterious quality to it that fit perfectly into this world.

About the only complaint I could have about this are all the names flying around. Other than the main characters I got a bit confuses when some of the secondary ones popped up, especially 'true bloods' with their similar formal name structures. But usually once they started interacting with others or their cities I put it together as the chapter moved on. There are also various names for the same thing, like the "Black Road" refers to the exiles northern True Bloods- which also have formal names like the nobles down south, which also have a group within them referred to as children of the Hundred (which the preface sets up where this comes from) and also they are called Inkallim. So it took me about half the book to get the hang of some of this and I would still get thrown a bit by the formal names of Thanes from time to time. But the book does have a section at the front that lists all the characters and who/what they are. Plus I am not the best at names in the real world, so that probably doesn't help me with something like this.

One thing that stood out to me as a big positive was the author's way of explaining everything. From battle scenes to just the laying out the opening of a chapter and it's scenery I felt like everything was explained perfectly to allow me to build a mental picture in my head and not have to pause on wasted description of too much detail or to figure it out because of not enough detail. This could have been something personal about how I picture scenes as I read, but I don't think I've ever read an author that matched up so perfectly to my mind in this area.

Bottom Line:

Some might find this type of fantasy story a bit slow, but I found every aspect interesting from huge battles to history to politics to mundane. I don't understand how this book isn't as hugely popular as a series like Martin's myself. I think any fan of his work, or Jordan, Rothfuss or Sanderson would love this story. I'd highly recommend any fan of those authors to at least check this book out and see if it fits for you. The whole trilogy is available now in paperback.

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