Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw
In Shadowcry (Wintercraft in the UK where I live) we meet Kate Winters, a young girl who discovers that she has the power to see through the veil and command the souls of the dead. She and her friend, Edgar — who is more than he first appears to be — are taken to the city of Fume and caught up in a power struggle between the Skilled and the High Council, who wish to destroy them.
Wintercraft is a really mixed bag. At times the writing is excellent, demonstrating real skill in keeping the pages turning and the tension ratcheted up to the maximum. Yet, especially towards the end of the novel, when you would have expected Jenna Burtenshaw to utilize the best of her writing in the climactic finale, everything falls rather flat and left me feeling disappointed. In addition, the fate of Da’ru is somewhat confusing. Kate’s actions in this sequence are written in a dreamlike manner, unlike everything that comes before, which raises the question of whether Da’ru is really vanquished or not.
In terms of characterisation, Burtenshaw makes Silas Dane everything he needed to be: the fierce, silent killer on Kate’s trail, genuinely terrifying as he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Despite his dark past and his actions during the novel, Burtenshaw ensures that the reader feels real sympathy for his plight.
On the flip side, Kate is a rather lacklustre heroine. She accepts her mystical powers with practically zero qualms and watches people die at Silas’ hands without really batting an eyelid. I struggled to feel any empathy for her. Edgar is presented in a deliberately mysterious, heavy-handed manner that grows tired very quickly, and his relationship with Kate, such as it is, comes out of nowhere. Lastly, Da’ru is a pantomime villain. She monologues about her evil plans, and does evil for the sake of evil and to gain ultimate power. We learn little about her true motivations. WHY has she decided to pierce the veil and bring the dead back to life. WHAT, in her past, made her cause the death and mayhem during this novel? I asked these questions, but received no answers.
During the course of Wintercraft, Burtenshaw also provides us with several series’ worth of exposition, long, descriptive passages where all the details we require to get us up to speed are told, not shown. The first five pages of chapter seven, for instance, give us a potted history of Albion. It’s interesting, but there are far more effective ways to convey this.
Despite all this, Burtenshaw’s writing shows a real flair at times, and there is promise for the future. I forgive much thanks to the vivid, evocative description of the Night Train:
Light flooded the walls, the rumble of wheels echoed through Kate’s bones and the night train thundered into the station, groaning and grunting like a vast malodorous beast. It was a moving stink of dripping oil, hot grinding metal and burning fumes; a patchwork of heavy repairs, newly forged metal and old hammered panels all riveted together into one scarred machine. Its massive wheels growled against the pressure of the brakes and its metal carriages rolled behind, each one windowless and terrifying accompanied by the creaking sound of hanging chains.
In summary, I enjoyed Wintercraft to a point, but, with so much truly excellent YA fantasy fiction being published right now, it feels mediocre in comparison. Overall, it’s ordinary, but with occasional flashes of brilliance. I think Burtenshaw has more (and better) to come. I will pick up future novels by Burtenshaw, but won’t be rushing to the store on release date.
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