This line from the novel WINTERBIRTH, by Brian Ruckley, sums up our main observation after reading the novel. WINTERBIRTH is marketed as both Epic Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means we have heroes in some sort of capacity. It also means we should have blood and battle…and in high quantities. Epic Fantasy usually involves some sort of epic quest, or a huge, all-engrossing plot that the heroes must stop. Heroic Fantasy means we have heroic and tragic last-stands.
There was nothing epic about this fantasy, and as for battles…can someone please explain to us why the first battle in the novel happens more than half-way through the book? OR WHY THERE WERE NO OTHER MAJOR BATTLES AT ALL IN THE ENTIRE NOVEL? It’s enough to make us think we are taking crazy-pills.
Call us bitter. Call us angry. It’s ok, because we are. There are so many other novels out there that we could be reading; novels that would make us proud to review. WINTERBIRTH took us away from those novels.
It’s not that the writing is poor. It is actually quite good, and it alone kept us reading. But what is Heroic Fantasy without the blood and sword? In a word: boring. Ruckley’s novel is at its best when the characters (with whom we have absolutely no attachment – another problem in itself) are wading into their limited engagements of fighting. The paperback of this novel counts 688 pages – epic in length for sure, but bland as tofu. Maybe 20 pages are of Heroic Fantasy mayhem. The marketing on the novel suggests Ruckley’s work is in the tradition of the late and great David Gemmell. We believe Gemmell would scoff at only 20 pages of action in a novel.
In addition, we feel a little taken advantage of. The prologue to the book mentions a race that sounds awesome, only then to tell us they were the victims of a genocidal crusade. So…no cool race. Another of the races that we have frequent contact with in the novel sound, act, and look suspiciously like elves…only they have an unpronounceable name…but don’t worry, they speak a foreign language that looks like elvish, only it isn’t. Look, if it’s an elf, call it an elf (this is where we thank the UK author James Barclay for his honesty).
As you can tell, we are frustrated. We wanted to like this novel, but that proved an impossibility. This isn’t to say that we can’t enjoy a novel that doesnt have action. Take R. Scott Bakker‘s first novel THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE. Astonishing in its greatness, and very little action throughout. We just felt that in this particular book it’s absence wasnt outweighed by other cool stuff.
Recommended Age: 13 and up…if you can stand it.
Violence: The few times we get it, it is great, and it is brutal. Too bad we rarely get any.
Sex: Alluded to, but never shown.
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