Saturday, 7 April 2018
Winterglass (2017) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew - Fantasy Book Review
Back when I was in my teens the fantasy genre was pretty much the only genre I read. I loved the worlds of Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, and Weiss and Hickman, they were such vivid wonderful creations. The flipside of all that is that this genre is known for huge books and long, long chains of novels. Winterglass at least is a quick read, what I assume to be the first entry in the Winterglass series is a novella, coming in at just 130 pages. It is also currently the only book in the series, though from how this ends I assume there will be more to come.
This takes place in the city-state of Sirapirat that many years in the past was conquered by a near immortal being known as the Winter Queen. This woman brings with her winter wherever she rules, and so the place has been plunged into perpetual winter. Nuawa is a fighter who earns her keep through arena fighting. Upon learning that the Queen's General; Lussadh is holding a contest with the winner getting to join her army Nuawa enters, for her own personal reasons.
The fantasy world described in this book was never really well explained, in fact I started to suspect that I had accidentally dipped my foot into the middle of an ongoing series. It turns out though that this was the first book, so it is a shame that nothing is really ever spelled out. I kind of had to try and assemble a picture in my head of this place. Events are described with an assumption you know what has been going on, characters have motivations that are never revealed to the reader, at least not as far as I could tell. By the books end I had a good enough idea of how Sirapirat operated, but that was about it, no idea what the world was like, or any importance of what happened here.
Sriduangkaew makes a lot of her characters seem gender neutral with male and female pronouns being used for both sexes. So you will get women referred to as Princes and Lords, males referred to as 'she'. I appreciate what was being gone for, but in the context of a fantasy novel that features the usual type of fantasy names it just made everything really confusing and distracting. On multiple occasions I had to flip back pages to try and work out if characters were male or female, this even applied to the main character of Nuawa. I remember a point right near the end of reading this when I had the realisation I had not gotten a grasp of which sex she was. Rather than progressive this just came across as making a confusing situation all the more confusing and took me out of the moment of what was happening with the plot. You can say it shouldn't matter what gender characters are, but it makes picturing them in your head as you read an impossible task.
The plot itself isn't bad, and deals with events in a different way than expected. The meat of the story, at least in a general way is that Nuawa is entering a tournament that she needs to win by fighting and killing opponents in combat. This aspect of the story takes place in the background though, it is mentioned briefly on a few occasions, but mainly this is about everything around the actual fighting; the politics and preparation. Nuawa isn't a flashy fighter, she is great at it, but in a functional way. Maybe this is why the fighting scenes are kept to a minimum. That is not to slight the decision to do things this way. Her interactions with Lussadh are interesting, but her overall plot arc took me a bit by surprise. The blurb for Winterglass's description actually gives the plot twist away, but I don't think it was ever actually meant to be surprising, just that there isn't a good job of revealing Nuawa's real motivations to the reader. In a way this reminded me of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, by this I mean as a stand alone it doesn't really tell much of a story, it is more a device to set up a future story, not much of note really happens here.
The whole perpetual winter aspect could be said to be jumping on the Game of Thrones band wagon, however this is more a retelling of The Snow Queen, and with the Winter Queen you have a compelling antagonist (of a kind) who does seem all powerful. Another feeling of Game of Thrones came from the many sex scenes that used some quite graphic language. With no swearing, or violent descriptions elsewhere it made the language used in the sex scenes feel out of place. There were some cool ideas contained within the book though. The notion of 'ghosts' being used to power the city was interesting, somehow the spirits of dead people are transferred into a supernatural power source. The descriptions about a living barricade was really cool, it gave the impression of some nightmarish mashup of monsters, magic, and technology.
Being a novella Winterglass avoids dragging on, it really wouldn't take anyone that long to read. I did feel that I wish some more world building had been established, maybe even just an appendix at the end to explain how the world operated some more. While this wasn't a bad read I did find myself being confused more often than not, this did mar my enjoyment. Still I will keep my ears open for the inevitable next book in the series to see how this new fantasy series unfolds. Winterglass is available to buy now thanks to Apex Publications.