The Winter Road by Adrian Selby
The Winter Road is one of the strongest standalone fantasy novels I have ever read. It has all the depth of a fully fleshed out series in just one volume and it really does pack a hefty punch. I’m impressed with everything Selby has done here, and I shall certainly be reading anything else he may write in the future.
The cleverest device he wields is language because it reflects his characters and world perfectly. There are made up words, rough colloquialisms and harsh sounding dialogue. It sets the tone for the book as it brings his protagonist (Teyr Amondsen) to life. He has a real talent for it, for using language to reflect personality, and it’s quite impressive. I’ve seen it done before in fiction plenty of times, but never this well in a fantasy novel. It’s left a real distinct impression on me because I could hear the voice of Amondsen and I could see the world through her eyes. And for that reason alone, the book deserves high praise.
However, that is only one element of this finely crafted novel. Central to the workings of this world is a highly developed system of alchemy. Potions, poisons and brews change the outcome of a fight and have the potential to send a character into a blood-filled rage or an early death if they’re not mixed correctly. Fightbrews can allow the user to defeat twenty opponents and remain standing. Poison can debilitate and kill instantly. These are all concepts rarely explored in fantasy fiction because they are less flashy than magic, perhaps even less exciting, but this isn’t a flashy world: it’s pure Grimdark, so it has all the nastiness associated with that word.
“Nobody takes a brew for pure pleasure, no matter how strong it makes you feel, how it changes you. Helsen will stick to a strong dayer, he’s never done a brew, and without work it’ll kill you.”
Amondsen is not your typical protagonist. She’s a middle-aged warrior and her best days really are gone. Her man in quite weak physically. He is no warrior. And I know many readers will applaud the reversal of roles here, as it counters atypical representations of gender in such a setting. Aude needs protection because he can’t swing a sword or shoot a bow, so she’s got to watch his back constantly. She’s also got so much more shit to trudge through to reach her end game. She wants to build a road to connect all the outlying settlements in the circle thus boosting trade and improving the quality of life for its common folk. It’s a noble aim, and one that will also see a hefty pile of coin land in her purse. Khiese is the problem, a warlord who wants to dominate everything and become king. He’s ruthless and cunning, a terrible enemy to have for sure, and he doesn’t want Amondsen anywhere near the circle. What follows is a brutal plot that didn’t hold anything back.
This story grabbed me from the first page and completely hooked me until the last. The plot never stopped moving forward. It’s a brilliantly well-balanced story with an ending that was electric in all its dramatic intensity. Bravo Mr Selby!
Sean Barrs, 9.3/10
“He falls and I get down on his chest and my good hand seeks his face, shoving it into the earth to stop its writhing, drive my one good thumb through an eye far as it’ll go. A shout behind me, I twist to jump clear but the spear goes through me. Out my front it comes, clean out of my guts.”
Oh, my heart.
This is one of those books that I held to my chest while tears poured down my face once I had finished. It was such a beautifully brutal story. I was both emotionally exhausted and physically drained when I was done, as though I were knifed and had my guts spilled all over the floor. The Winter Road was the exact-right book at the exact-right moment for me. I was left completely and utterly smitten!
The story takes place primarily set against the backdrop of a savage forest, known as The Circle, which spans a thousand miles. It focuses on the irrepressible clan wars that take part throughout this wilderness, which one woman wants to overcome. Teyr Amondsen, a former mercenary, is on a mission to lead a rag-tag crew of mercenaries in a merchant caravan across these dense forests. She wants to build roads and other outposts, which will aid in uniting them all and producing a more prosperous land.
The Winter Road was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and I have to say that I was astonished by this story. It’s a masterful work of art! Adrian Selby has written a fully-realized standalone saga that is crackling with energy.
Much like life, it was achingly bittersweet.
“There’s a stillness only snow makes with the air, brings a hush. It falls on the trees above me.”
Teyr is one of the most remarkable characters I’ve ever read. These are the type of characters that matter that will leave a lasting impact on a readers soul. Within a few pages into the narrative, I knew that she was going to become one of my favourite characters ever! She’s this gloriously flawed badass with a big heart. Well-rounded, passionate, intelligent, ambitious, broken, hopeful. She has faced incredible obstacles throughout her life and she has made mistakes. She is just, well, she’s everything I adore in a character and more. I love her so freaking much!
The Winter Road is a luminous tale. Vivid and powerful, gritty and emotional. It’s astounding that this is only Selby’s second novel. The world he has created within a thousand miles of claustrophobic forest is vast and immersive.
Truly, this book is made of magic.
(Massive thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a copy in advance to flail over!)
The review was originally posted here on The Grimdragon when The Winter Road was released on November 13th 2018.
Holly Grimdragon, 9.3/10
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