Monday, December 3, 2018
Book Review: THE WINTER ROAD by Adrian Selby
Title: The Winter Road
Author: Adrian Selby
Publication Date: November 13, 2018
Adrian Selby's name has been on the tongues of many readers lately and it's mostly glowing in nature. THE WINTER ROAD is the Welsh author's second full-length novel (the first being Snakewood, set in the same world as this one). It was with a great deal of excitement that I was able to procure an advance copy of his latest novel just as the aforementioned buzz was reaching its pinnacle. The story of THE WINTER ROAD takes place in an area of land known as "The Circle". The Circle is structured just as it sounds, with various clan territories laid out in a circular arrangement on the map surrounding a dense forest patch in the middle called The Almet. The story is told in the form of a dual timeline of then and now, which lends a nice flow to the narrative in that we get to see how things progressed to their current situation through alternating chapters. I enjoy reading books that use this technique a lot so I was encouraged right from the start that I would probably be sucked into this story. Main character Teyr Amondsen was once a mercenary but is now a merchant trying to build a life for herself with her husband and young son. She also has another important desire though, and that is to unite the fractured clans of The Circle by building a trade road that cuts straight through from one end to the other. Teyr believes by constructing this road that it will not only open up trade among the clans, but also open communication that will be vital to bringing peace to the land once and for all. The problem is that the road will have to cut through the volatile area of The Almet where a ruthless warlord named Khiese has staked his claim. Khiese and his warrior Whiteboys (named for the white chalk that they use to paint their face and bodies) have been extending their attacks beyond the central Almet to the outer clan villages, which proves more than problematic for Teyr's plans. Khiese's goal is to bring everyone under his heel and for the clans to swear fealty to him as the supreme leader of the region.
So it is against this tumultuous background that Teyr and her caravan must set out to begin making plans for the road. It doesn't take long however for Teyr and her cohorts to stumble upon the first ravaged clan settlement, and it becomes quickly evident that she must deal with the immediate threat posed by the barbarous Khiese before any hope of uniting the clans in peace can take place. What follows are some incredibly intense battles, both physical and emotional, which test Teyr's will to its absolute fullest. Teyr is put through the ringer and tested mightily as she struggles with her desire to fulfill her dream plus keep her family together, against merely surviving the relentless and brutal attacks of the Whiteboys. As she travels from clan settlement to clan settlement she comes across a mostly beaten populace, many of whom have been forced to follow Khiese and his twisted campaign of annihilation. There is hope though as Teyr is armed with both the knowledge and instincts that she acquired in her past life as a mercenary and also the medicinal/magical properties of special plants which can be brewed to bestow certain strengths and attributes. Will that be enough to repel the growing menace of Khiese and the Whiteboys, or will Teyr, her family, and her people also eventually bow to the oppressive tyranny that is taking hold across The Circle? One thing is certain: it won't be easy, not by a long shot.
THE WINTER ROAD had me hooked from the very first pages. My initial impression was that this was going to be an incredibly violent and brutal book. Oh and that it is! In fact there are sections that are extremely difficult to get through because of the savage violence. Having said that, it never made me want to stop reading because the violence is a product of the setting and the characters. The Circle ain't a very nice place and these characters have been hardened by it to the point where the only way to survive in this harshest of environments is to kill first and ask questions later. The weak do not survive very long in The Circle to be sure. I was also quite fascinated and connected to the main character Teyr in a way that I haven't been to any character in some of my recent reads. Teyr is one of the strongest female characters you will ever come across and this was incredibly refreshing and a joy to experience. There's no Mary Sue in Teyr Amondsen, that's for darn sure. Strong female characters should be celebrated and Selby has given us one here in Teyr. Read this book if only for that reason, but luckily for us there are many more reasons than that. The dual timeline storyline worked amazingly well for me as I had a feeling that it would. Selby makes effective use of this technique and throughout the book as we go back in time, we get snippets and hints of the eventual conflict to come which is handled beautifully. Then there's the world-building which I thought was some of the best I've ever encountered. The Circle is a complex and mysterious place and the central forest holds even further mysteries, which really gives the story a sense of foreboding and suspense that just raises it far above your ordinary fantasy book. I thoroughly enjoyed THE WINTER ROAD by Adrian Selby and recommend it to anyone who loves their fantasy with a lot of Grimdark but also with a lot of emotion. I heard someone else describe this book as "Grimdark with heart" and I think that is a very accurate description in many ways. My advice is to try not to be put off by the violence in the beginning of the book because if you stick with it, you will be so richly rewarded with a tremendous story that checks off all the required boxes. Pick it up and read it soon, you won't regret it.