Winter by William Horwood

The journey has been a delight, the characters wonderful and the the story woven beautifully.
Winter book cover

Book of the Year 2013 (see all)

Winter is the fourth and final novel in William Horwood's Hyddenworld Quartet.

A savage winter has been unleashed upon the Hyddenworld by an angry Earth. Humans find their way into this secret realm – to destroy all that the storms haven’t undone. The Hydden city of Brum now faces its darkest days; joining its greatest enemy to combat invaders. But ultimately, survival depends on its champions – Jack, Katherine and scrivener Bedwyn Stort. If they can locate a last gem, burning with fire and magic, devastation may be averted. But if the jewel fails to reach Judith, the Shield Maiden, before winter’s end, human and Hyddenkind will pay the price…

The ending of a series should ideally provoke many differing emotions: be it joy, anger, happiness, sadness, disappointment, relief, maybe even simple contentment, possibly even a mix of them all. Ideally it will provide closure, regardless of whether the ending be happy or sad. But it is absolutely vital that the ending of a series leaves the reader feeling something, for if it leaves you feeling no significant emotion then it has really failed in its task.

Winter left me feeling a blend of emotions. There was a sense of happiness, and also a sense of closure without regret as there was little doubt that the story's natural end had been reached. I was also left feeling slightly despondent due to the fact that a book of this nature, with its elements of dystopia (this final book shares themes with Cormac McCarthy's The Road in places) and a book which focuses as it does on the harm that humans do to their environment, is a cautionary tale and that should indeed have a sobering effect on the reader. I was left not being particularly proud to be of my own species. Who needs orcs when you have humans?

But don't let me give the impression that this book is just doom-and-gloom. It isn't, far from it in fact. William Horwood is an author I have long admired and as was also the case within the Duncton Mole books he understands that if things are looking bleak, and the road ahead very dark, he needs to provide light to keep the reader from despair. And the lightness comes in the form of wonderful characters like Bedwyn Stort, Jack, Katherine, Leetha, Barklice, Master Brief and Goodwife Cluckett to name but a few. They all display great friendship, bravery, they share a little laughter in hard times and show no little ingenuity. And it is the characters that stood out for me as I read this series, and the characters and story are something I will remember fondly for a long, long time. I also know that I will re-read the entire series.

Winter is a skilfully written book, the entire series a triumph in storytelling. Not every single thing worked perfectly for me personally but when is that not the case? It is not an easy read, the subject is often traumatic but I hope that all readers will finish book four with the same sense of quiet gratitude and completion that I felt. It was a quartet of books I thoroughly enjoyed reading and I looked forward excitedly to each instalment's yearly publication. If you're a fan of Horwood, or simply a fan of excellent stories, particularly those with a strong ecological theme running through, then I would strongly recommend you read the Hyddenworld books. The journey has been a delight, the characters wonderful and the the story woven beautifully.

Hyddenworld: Winter by William Horwood
Hardback: 448 pages
Macmillan, 05 Dec 2013

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