Imagine a caper/heist set in the land of faerie, where the leader of the heist crew is an exiled soldier and he’s aided by, amongst others, a Physicist from Earth and on their trek through faerie land, the crew drives a Pontiac Le Mans through the forested lands. Imagine no further, because Matthew Sturges has laid out such a story in his debut novel, Midwinter. Having read and enjoyed some of Mr. Sturges’s comic book work with Bill Willingham, I was looking forward to see how well he could tell a story in prose form. If Midwinter is any indication of what his novel-writing future has in store, I’ll be a happy reader.
Mauritane, an exiled military leader of the Seelie, one faction of elves/faeries, in a ages-spanning war is charged with finding a MacGuffin in exchange for his release from prison and the return to his station in life. Mauritane is allowed to hand-pick his crew of helpers and chooses Perrin Alt, one of his allies from the war; an Elfish princess by the name of Raieve, and Brian Slattery a human physicist . Clearly, Sturges’s imagined world touches on our own and this provides for comparisons ranging from Lord Dunasny to Michael Moorcock to Neil Gaiman. I think Sturges balanced the amount of details on this connection very well – a lot of the mythology of the world is very much based on ancient faerie tales, an example of which is the changeling myth which posits that human children are exchanged for a faerie child at an extremely young age.
Along the way, we learn more about Mauritane and his crew as well as the enemies he made in his career as a man of war. The characterization is just right for the novel, Mauritane comes across as strong-willed, though he is tempered by a balance of emotion and a good mind. Even though he is a married man, his attraction to Raieve the elf is difficult to deny. While I liked Slattery’s character and found many of his motivations to be empathetic and genuine, I also thought the way in which the other magical characters treated him as a "dumb human" to be the most clichéd aspect of the novel. Purane-Es is the chief among Mauritane’s enemies and in this instance, Sturges’s characterization is not quite a strong. Whereas Mauritane manages to flex the bonds of cliché, Purane-Es is little more than a jealous and envious cretin. One surprising minor twist in Purane’s machinations helped to push more dramatic tension into the story, but I feel that to be more of a reflection of the pawns in Purane’s game than Purane himself.
Part of what made the novel so enjoyable for me was that we only see a snapshot of the world of Midwinter – just a portion of the Seelie and Unseelie worlds, and their relation to a greater Mutliverse including a reasonable facsimile of our own world. Some of the scenes Sturges laid out and depicted where quite cool, not the least of which involves the afore-mentioned Pontiac Le Mans shuttling through a fantasy-esque landscape. There’s a depth to this world, and it seemingly has connections to many other worlds. One of the most enjoyable scenes, and one I found to have a great deal of mythic resonance which I always enjoy, was the Thule Man. The Thule Man is literally a giant boogeyman come to life and along with characters names like Silverdun and Queen Titiania and places such as the City Emerald and the Uncontested Lands, Sturges added layers of mythic resonance that permeated the novel in a great way.
Though not a perfect novel, in Midwinter Sturges does a lot of things very well in his first novel– the sense o’ wonder of a fantastic multiverse, likeable characters and an engaging plot. Fans of caper-ish plots and solid action would do well to give Sturges’s impressive debut effort a try.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford
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