Author – Brian Ruckley
Pages: 576 pages
Release Date: September 10, 2007
Winterbirth was a milestone for me. Orbit Books (the publisher) was the first publisher to approach me and offer to send me advance review copies of their novels and it seemed to validate the existence of A Dribble of Ink. Ironically, I actually received it a couple of months ago but agreed with Alex Lencicki (Ruckleyâ€™s publicist) that it would be best to hold of on the review (and interview) until Winterbirth was closer to its US publication date.
So, it was with great eagerness that I finally picked up Winterbirth and began reading. While my copy sat for several weeks, taunting me, I watched several other reviews roll in, all of which confirmed that I should be eager to read the novel. Winterbirth had a lot to live up to when I finally started reading it; the hype was sky high.
So the question is: did it live up to the hype? Well, Yes and No.
My first impressions of Winterbirth were strong. The setting was new, fresh and exceptionally intriguing; Ruckleyâ€™s writing had better flow and was easier to read than I expected; equal screen time was given to both sides of the conflict, creating a sense of torn loyalties within me, sometimes I empathized more with the â€œBad Guys” than I did with the â€œGood Guys”. So far, so good. I started to tear through the beginning on the novel in no time. I found Ruckley’s prose to be nothing special at worst and almost poetic at best. He’s at his strongest and most eloquent when he’s describing the bleak, snowy world in which Winterbirth takes place, deftly drawing a vivid picture in the mind of the reader.
As I continued with the novel, however, Winterbirth lost me a little. For every unique, exciting element to Ruckleyâ€™s novel (the setting, some elements of the magic system, the history of the world, etc…) there was another element that had been seen a hundred times before (young man of Royal blood being thrown into a hairy situation, â€œevil” invading army, elves-that-aren’t-called-elves-but-everyone-knows-they-are-elves, etc…). The Godless World Trilogy (of which Winterbirth is the first novel) is based around the concept of… *drumroll* a world lacking gods. It’s a terrific concept, but I would have liked to see this particular quirk have more of a role in the story. Ruckley’s world, lacking gods, seems not much different than those world’s that have gods. Now, itâ€™s not to say that these standard Fantasy elements ruined the novel, but I felt that they contradicted the innovation and â€œfreshness” found in the rest of Ruckleyâ€™s novel. It also felt like some events happened a little too easily and cleanly for some of the protagonists, and I couldnâ€™t shake the feeling that Ruckley took the easy way out.
One of the strengths of Winterbirth is that Ruckley tells the story through eyes of characters on both side of the conflict. He uses this to great effect by jumping around through Point of views (POVs) to keep the story, which in reality has a slow moving plot, feeling quick and energetic. As soon as the story of one POV character starts to slow down he switches gears and takes us half way across the world.
Another bit of praise I can bestow upon the novel is that it brings to mind memories of Tad Williamâ€™s epic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I think much of this feeling can be attributed to two things: the setting and the Kyrinin. Iâ€™ve spoken of the setting, a beautiful and rugged reflection of the Scottish landscape, but Iâ€™ve said little about Ruckleyâ€™s version of elves. The Kyrinin resemble typical elves in many ways but Ruckley makes one major diversion from the norm that really sets them apart. You see, these Kyrinin really donâ€™t like each other much, and itâ€™s nice to see Ruckley take an approach to â€œelves” that doesnâ€™t make them all look like peace-loving â€œGood Guys”. The Kyrinin are maelstroms of emotion and there’s no black and white with them, only shades of grey. They are terrifying and spiritual at the same time, and itâ€™s obvious that the vicious civil war erupting in Winterbirth is only going to get bloodier as the trilogy moves on.
Winterbirth has its ups and downs, but in the end it left me wanting more. The ending is a mixed bag (one storyline seems to lack a climax, another has an incredible ending soaked in religious symolism), but itâ€™s obvious that Ruckley is setting up the next two novels. Winterbirth was originally released in 2006, alongside other debut novels such as The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself, and while Winterbirth isnâ€™t quite as strong as these novels, itâ€™s still definitely worth a look if only for the terrific setting and the twists Ruckley makes on some of the Fantasy mainstays.