Blood of Winterhold, by Stephen Almekinder

blood-of-winterhold-by-stephen-almekinder coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory
Published: 2000
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Lisa DuMond

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It is a mark of Almekinder’s talent for description that, even as I sweat out another green winter in Florida, I can so easily slip into the lethally icy world of Winterhold, again. In fact, as I shiver at the ever present threat of hypothermia on this frozen planet, I wonder what has taken me so long to get to the sequel after the teeth-chattering debut novel. Frigid as this inhabited glacier is, I find that I have missed the permafrost world, the hardened denizens, the constant political danger — I have missed Almekinder’s talented voice.

Blood of Winterhold takes readers back to this fascinating monarchy divided. Picking up almost twenty years after the dramatic close of Winterhold, we return to the politically mad world of the half-kingdoms. The Queen/Lady continues to rule the territory of the Hold, while the King/Lord rules the Camp below. Every moment without open warfare is spent in a tense truce that any change in the balance could shatter.

The young Interpreter Trys is called from his home in the Wasteland in the hope that he will make a positive difference. What no one told him is that revolution brews in the slums caught between Hold and Camp. Parties on both sides have their own motivations for fighting and aiding the revolutionary, but none are speaking the truth. Soon, Trys will find out that truth may well be the hardest thing on Winterhold to capture and even harder to hold. There are secrets about his own birth that Trys has no suspicion of; secrets that threaten his very life.

Almekinder’s trilogy of the winter-locked planet actually seems to get better with each chapter. His gift for narrative builds a vivid landscape of the world his characters struggle through, without slowing down the story with lengthy exposition. One particular passage — a description of the aging, but still unconquered beauty of the queen — is deeply moving and memorable. This talent extends to his characters who seem to sketch in with a few swordlike swipes, but emerge as fully rounded, distinct people.

The action in Blood of Winterhold is virtually non-stop. Take the normal court intrigue multiplied by two and add the hostile relations between king and queen and there is never a moment to let down one’s guard. A dash of poison, a stab of blade, or maybe a shushed bundling off to a cell that no one knows about, and an enemy or innocent can disappear with hardly a question asked.

A third Winterhold book is on its way. Don’t let my tardiness set you behind on the cycle; you’ll want to be ready to read that next volume as soon as its available. Of course, you could wait until one of the big commercial publishers wises up and grabs the whole trilogy for an omnibus, but don’t you like to be ahead of the wave? Read it now and be one of those people who knew it back when.

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