Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley


Published by Orbit
ISBN 978-1-59102-594-8
September 2007
432 Pages


Winterbirth is many things, a time of year in Brian Ruckley’s so-named debut novel, and it is also the novel itself – the launch book for the US arm of Orbit Books and the first book in Ruckley’s Godless World saga.  One can’t really argue with Orbit’s decision behind launching their imprint with it, the book has the makings of an epic – royal bloods fighting, demi-human invaders, an orphaned heir, and faint hints of what might be called Viking mysticism (if such a term exists). In Ruckley’s world, The Godless World, god has abandoned the world, leaving men and demi-men to fend for themselves.  It is a harsh world of violence and cunning men.


The story concerns several families and their plight as war and conflict disrupt their world after the Winterbirth celebration.  Thankfully for us readers, a “Dramatis Personae” is included in the front of the book as the similarly sounding names are a bit difficult to discern at the outset of the book. That said, Ruckley does convey the sense of chaos extremely well throughout the novel.  This isn’t the chaos of a writer who doesn’t know what he’s doing, this is the chaos of a storyteller with a plan who wants to put his characters through a windstorm of difficulty.  Conflict, in the form of a fanatical religious group known as “The Black Road” has scattered many of the “True Bloods,” the rich and powerful in Ruckley’s world, and many of them aren’t quite sure what to do.


There are a number of characters whose journeys are followed as the plot progresses; Orisian one of the not-so-direct heirs of a kingdom; Gryvan, the King of Kings, ultimate king; and Aeglyss, a half-breed with mystical powers of persuasion and charisma.  With a novel of such epic scope, Ruckley does follow more characters but these stood out the most for me.  Orisian and his shieldman (bodyguard) seem to be the only survivors of an attack on their family during the Winterbirth celebration.  Through their journey, Ruckley is able to reveal and convey the harsh landscape of the “Godless World,” of the story.


The character who worked the best for me was na’kyrm Aeglyss.  His combination of dark intentions and charisma reminded me somewhat of R. Scott Bakker’s enigmatic Anusûrimbor Kellhus.  Both characters have, at the outset, mysterious backgrounds and a power over men with their words.  Though it will take a lot for Aeglyss to match the heights of Kellhus’s character (no small feat for any character), Ruckley has planted the seeds of something very intriguing with him.


I feel odd typing this, but as much as I recognized the quality of this debut, I found it difficult to completely connect with the book.  For instance, Ruckley created a fairly intricate world here, if not completely original, but I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in his world.  On the physical side of things, the book itself is nicely packaged and a very appealing looking product. Back to the words in the book, I can see the appeal of the book. “Shades of grey” as opposed to good v. evil is almost a cliché itself, but Ruckley does give a good sense that the people on all sides of the conflicts are motivated by their beliefs.  Aside from Aeglyss, I couldn’t become too interested in any of the other characters. As I stated earlier, Orbit is smart to launch their imprint with this book; it will do well for them and has the right combination of real-world grounding and far-away fantasy to appeal to a wide audience even if it didn’t altogether connect with me. I wanted to like the book more than I did, but perhaps was let down because of the high praise it received when it was released in the UK last year.


© 2007 Rob H. Bedford

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