Winterhold by Stephen Almekinder

Winterhold is an intricately detailed novel of cold politics in an even colder, world with a more harsh environment. Almekinder’s world is extremely well developed and constructed as are his characters. Almekinder’s debut novel tells the tale of a kingdom torn at the highest level, Queen and King. The King and Queen of generations past had a Schism, as it is referred to in the book, and the King left the Queen and established the Camp while the Queen ruled the Hold. This Schism is never quite explained, but it still hangs over the characters and the world as an almost cataclysmic event. As the ages pass the link between the two factions has grown colder and more distant. The Rituals rule the lives of both the people of the Camp and the Hold.

Blood is the key to keeping the ruling families in place, blood is also the key factor that warms the people. As the saying goes in this harsh world, “The blood of life and death.” In every case here, Blood is thicker than water. A drop of blood will warm a person in the cold harshness, it will strengthen the blades of warriors and blood is what keeps the line of both the King/Lord and Queen/Lady intact. Blood is everything in the world of Winterhold.

The novel opens describing the coldness of this world from the view-point of the former First Seer (i.e. royal advisor) Sebaste. Sebaste is one of Almekinder’s more interesting creations in the world of Winterhold. All the court advisors throughout the history of both the Hold and the Camp share the memories of the previous first advisor, in essence the First Seer is the living embodiment of the history and knowledge of the Hold and Camp. Many fantasies employ this very common character type of the court advisor, but in this case Almekinder has done a fine job of building upon that and creating something his own.

The other primary characters are the King/Lord, the Queen/Lady and their respective royal entourage. Throughout the novel, the King/Lord sticks to the Rituals and rules of the world while the Queen/Lady tries to live her own life outside the confines of the strict rituals. The Queen half-heartedly goes through the Ritual with her concubine until she falls for him through the charms he sets for her. Her concubine is one of the performers of a troupe of players, Gerred.

Almekinder’s strength is the detail of the world he has created. At times the dialogue and some of the scenes are a bit forced, which is often to be expected of a first novel. The only part of the book that I found a bit trying was the fact that every time the King was referred to he was always referred to as King/Lord and the Queen as Queen/Lady; which made the reading a bit stilted. That small complaint aside, the story was well laid out and believable, within the bounds and confines Almekinder created.

Overall, Almekinder has created that is extremely detailed, almost to a fault, populated by characters trying to make the best of their situation. In that respect he has created a plausible tale.

Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford

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