If your taste runs along the likes of George R.R. Martin — dark, gritty fantasy that reads like historical fiction — then Winterbirth, the first novel in Brian Ruckley’s The Godless World trilogy, is for you.
The gods got fed-up with their creation and left it to its own demise long ago and this world feels like just that. It’s a cold, dark, and violent, place that’s full of rugged highlands, foreboding forests, and misty, frigid coastlines. Cross-generational feuds among Bloods are the cause of constant unrest among the human races. The Kyrinnin race of forest dwelling people not only must face the sometimes violent prejudice of the humans, but have their own tribal wars to contend with. Now, the banished fanatical Black Road Bloods are invading and a lust for vengeance in one lone cross-bred human/Kyrnnin is awakening a dark force with a strength that hasn’t been known in living memory.
As I read Winterbirth, the story’s feeling of hopelessness that accompanies a godless place just kind of crept through like a chill draft that sends a shiver up one’s spine.
I only have two complaints about this book:
1. The names are long, hard to pronounce, and similar. On one hand, this adds some realism to the story, but on the other, I became easily confused at times as to who is who and where is where.
2. There is a huge lack of visual description which seems to me to be a trend in a lot of the new fantasy. While I understand that authors may be trying to distance their work from past epics that wasted page after page on boring, gratuitous details, I think fantasy, more so then other genres, requires a certain amount of visuals due to the totally made-up worlds with made-up races, creatures, and other things.
Overall, Winterbirth is a good story that’s well worth a read — especially by those who already like this kind of fantasy epic. It’s not a first book that just “blew-me away.” However, it seems like its building up momentum and should get better as it goes. Which is a great relief compared to all the series that start-out strong but progressively become less interesting with each following book.
I have been craving a real epic fantasy novel and Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley is exactly that — gods, diverse races, medieval setting, and plenty of warfare. What more could a lover of epic fantasy want?
Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ruckley also does a really good job of creating fascinating characters and plot. Too often you get one or the other, but Ruckley really paints a picture that you can get into. That is due in large part because he doesn’t try to feed you too much all at once — it’s really well-paced.
The main character (if there really is just one), Orisian, is a younger son of a minor noble family. He seems immature for his years, which makes him both interesting and annoying at the same time. The progression from young and weak to mature man is very well done; Orisian’s reaction to life-changing events feels real, not like the typical hero who nonchalantly passes through the refiner’s fire with barely a thought. The other characters are equally interesting.
I really enjoyed the way that Ruckley allowed the reader to see how something that one person sees as evil could be another person’s good. It’s not that you want the bad guy to succeed, but his motives are understandable and reasonable for his character.
I am excited to start the next book in this series, Bloodheir. If Ruckley can maintain the intensity and pace that he set with Winterbirth, then this promises to be one of the best trilogies released recently. Fans of excellent epic fantasy shouldn’t miss Winterbirth.
The Godless World — (2007-2009) Publisher: 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 corpses strewn over the fields. They instead will see an 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.