In many ways, Winterbirth, author’s debut and the first part of The Godless World trilogy, is just another standard epic fantasy, bursting with clichés. It includes:
- Good Guys of moderate nobility, who do nothing wrong at all and would like to enjoy their lives in blissful inactivity they are privileged with. Instead, they have to send half of their armed forces south, because the Internal Foes (who happen to be the country's sovereign, his right hand and some of the other high-positioned nobility) are being selfish bastards. And as if that wasn't enough, the External Foes come and ruin their lives further. But there is no question about the Good Guys being as righteous and proud as it gets – they will fight until the very (bitter) end.
- Internal Foes, who are not enemies in the traditional sense of the word, but represent the unwanted governance over the Good Guys. Their greed and ambition makes them forget their ancient enemies and instead, they take on the idea of conquering the rich and fertile south. Their motivation is based on their spoiled and misled nature.
- External Foes, who are actually outcasts from the past. They reside in the frozen North and they start the war by brutally slaying the innocent populace of Glas Valley – but, it is the only way to get back the land that was taken from them. There’s no thing like home, even though it’s littered with corpses and ruin.
- The 'hero' of the story, who is, in fact, a mere youth without any unusual powers and/or knowledge (but of notable bravery). He is in fact just a run-away from the war, being protected by a motley crew assembled with various outcasts, but who are surprisingly, not trying to put up revenge. At least not until the war is done with.
I could continue, but it would be of no use, because even though Winterbirth is filled with clichés like these (mentioned above), it can be and is (in overall) quite an enjoying read, once you get past the first hundred pages or so – the interesting part starts with the celebration at the beginning of the winter, called Winterbirth (where the book got its name from).
Why, you ask?
Winterbirth is Brian Ruckley's debut, and even though his writing style is good (far from outstanding, but I noticed no bigger flaws that would put me off), his lack of experience becomes painfully obvious when it comes to names.
There are 12 different Bloods (allegory for noble families), an excruciating number of different places and even more significant count of people –Ruckley mentions all of them casually during the beginning chapters, scribing them into every description and naming every minor character until the reader gets completely lost and is tempted to start skipping names altogether. Which is a shame, since there could be many pleasant 'Ah, I remember that one!' moments when the story evolves further on. But since, at least at the very beginning, every single person, from maidservants to simple by-passers, is named in full (usually one has two first and two last names), and every road has its origin and end-destination mentioned, usually crossing some river or another and passing through various (un)important cities (which are often even named alike – Kolglas, Koldihrve, Kolkyre, for an instance), a reader can't really be blamed if (s)he gets lost in all the name throwing-about. But we can get past that, since Winterbirth is Ruckley’s debut and at least another two Godless World books are on horizon – he probably just made a mistake by being too eager to explain everything at once.
Luckily, the feeling more or less passes after the story grabs hold and starts to pull. There are less names saturating the pages (which is somewhat logical, since there are less insignificant characters contending for our attention), and the story picks up with intensity. Winterbirth is not the 'I can't put it down' type of book, but it is definitely an interesting enough easy-read, just waiting to be munched over on vacations, when bored or when in need of a light-fantasy fare. There are no convulted conspiracies or secrets (yet?) to spice up the story, so there is no need to memorize all the things that look as they might be of some importance. Winterbirth is a pretty straightforward tale and the plot can be pretty predictable for an experienced reader. And while Winterbirth does not deliver any great surprises or twists, I nevertheless found it to be a worthy free-time consumer.
For those interested, there is a bit of history of the world itself included, and Ruckley includes some serious world-building; sometimes a bit tedious, at least at the beginning (endless descriptions with endless names included), but this tendency calms down in time, though without it, the book would perhaps be more memorable than it is. And while certainly it is not the kind of book you put on your bookshelf and forget about it, it is neither a guaranteed re-reading material, nor it is meant to be included on your favourites list. It is a pretty straight-forward classic fantasy epic, and that is all you are going to get... an interesting plot and easy enough read, but definitely not an essential one. There’s one thing though … I believe that the sequel might be better. Ruckley, after all, still has time to develop his promising skill and correct the deficiencies that are currently separating Winterbirth from being a really memorable read.
~ Trin ~