The OF Blog: Brian Ruckley, Winterbirth

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Brian Ruckley, Winterbirth

Winterbirth is the first book written by Brian Ruckley, and is the first novel in the Godless World series. The book debuted in the UK a year ago, and was published this week in the US.

One of my favorite aspects of this story is the basic setup, the world, the hinted at history, cultures, and the revealed world of the current. Through a few quick paragraphs to open the prologue, Ruckley paints an intriguing and stark picture of a world and the peoples that live there. The land and some of the people are heavily influenced by Ruckley's native Scotland, which is well rendered.

This is a world where there were Gods. They created a race of beings. Destroyed it when they committed terrible crimes. The Gods started again, creating a number of races. When several of those races banded together to destroy a third, the Gods left in disgust and despair. Centuries later, a cult rose up amongst a people that called themselves the bloods, something like medieval Scottish clans. This cult claims that one God remained, the God that holds the book of life and death, and that all lives are written in that book, a book that foretells the return of the Gods. The Black Road. Of course, this led to a split in the bloods and a war, which the Bloods of the Black Road lost.

The current story revolves around the beginning of winter, and the Winterbirth celebration. There are a handful of various PoV characters spread out over the land. Each are involved in different conflicts of politics, war, religion. However, the primary story is that of a new war and the Return of the Bloods of the Black Road.

Reading this novel, I am reminded in part of Martin's ASOIAF and Tad Williams' MST stories. While Ruckley never managed to replicate the height of either authors' series or style, Winterbirth can be described as a good fusion of both. The world, action, and politics take a grim and "real" approach that Martin has made so popular recently, while some of Williams' storytelling and worldbuilding style is also evident. People who enjoy either work, might well find themselves engrossed by this novel.

I find that my opinion of this book is very mixed. There is a great deal of potential with the world, the introduced plot points, the political and cultural dynamics being explored. However, Ruckley fails to truly connect his characters with his readers. It seemed that Winterbirth served as one very long prologue to a story that is just about to start. Ruckley also falls prey to some very old conventions in his storytelling and development: noble savages; freemen being dirty, dangerous, and weak... to name only two. The Characterization is flat at best, weak often, but it is interesting that all the characters have a good deal of promise for later stories.

That being said, there are chapters and sections of the story that are completely engrossing and entertaining. At the end of the book, I was left looking forward to what Ruckley has in store for his readers in book two. That says a lot about a book... especially a first novel.

Winterbirth might not be brilliant, but it is a decent first novel that introduces an interesting conflict set in a fascinating world. Anyone looking for a new author to read, keep the name Brian Ruckley in mind.

Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley
Published by Orbit

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