Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: Midwinter by Matthew Sturges

"It's the trees," said Honeywell. "They're talking." "Are you serious?" said Satterly, a wide grin appearing on his face. "Yes," said Mauritane, "but don't talk to them." Satterly slowed his horse to a walk and peered at some branches that hung over the road. "Hello," said the tree. "Isn't a nice day?" "It is a nice day, isn't it?" said Satterly. "What's your name?" He felt Mauritane's hand on his wrist. "Didn't I just say not to speak to the trees?" "Yes, but they're...trees. What's the problem?" Mauritane sighed. "You'll see." "My name is Tree!" said the tree. "Isn't that a nice name? Isn't the sun pretty?" "Good morning!" said another tree. "So nice to see you?" "Have a wonderful day!" the first tree said, waving a branch. "Lovely to meet you!" "The air is fantastic this morning," observed a third. Other trees joined in, wishing Satterly well, offering kinds words of support, inquiring after his family. Soon the entire forest was a cacophony of arboreal babbling and branch fluttering, loud enough to drown out any conversation the travelers might have had. Their one-sided conversations followed the six riders the full length of the forest, their volume never decreasing until the pines and spruce gave way to more rocks and the voices faded into the wind. "See you another time!" offered a fir on the tree line. "It was so nice to meet you!" "I am so sorry," muttered Satterly once they were out of range. "You should be sorry," said Mauritane. "When I give an order, you follow it. The next time you blithely disregard a direct order from me, I'll drag you the rest of the way to the City Emerald. Are we clear?" "Yes," said Satterly. "Understood. I just...I mean, they're talking trees!" "I loath talking trees," said Silverdun. "I absolutely loath them. I should call you out for doing that." He scowled at Satterly and road ahead. ~Excerpt from Midwinter by Matthew Sturges Once a war hero, Mauritaine is now a prisoner in Crere Sulace prison serving a life term for treason. But the Queen of the Seelie Fae, Regina Titiana, has offered Mauritaine a second chance at freedom if he will undertake a mysterious and deadly mission. Facing limited options, Mauritaine must choose the companions for his quest from a group of prisoners, one of whom might be a spy for Mab, the Unseelie Queen. Midwinter is set in a land that brushes up against other dimensions, including the modern human world, pulling fae and humans alike into its mysterious path. Mauritaine and his band follow a convoluted route through the story as they encounter refugees from the human world and those who would thwart their mission. Midwinter was a very strange book for me because it has so much going on, so many good ideas, but it never fully takes off. Midwinter is the debut novel of Matthew Sturges, a comic book writer, and I can't help but wonder if his writing style is reflective of his background since comic books (or graphic novels depending on your preferred term *Sturges' bio says comic book writer*) rely on imagery to tell the story as much as the writing and Midwinter is sparse on details. The book starts off great. The set up is everything you could want from a fantasy novel. The characters seem really interesting, the setting intriguing and the magic system shows promise. But once you get about one third of the way through the book you realize that what you're reading is a fairly well developed outline, but not a fully fleshed-out story. And that's such a shame because the story has so much going for it-- it just begs for further exploration. There are a lot of layers to Midwinter and a lot of good characters that are never fully given the opportunity to shine. Mauritane is, on the surface, a charismatic leading character, but he remains somewhat two-dimensional. We get a decent amount of history on his character but not a lot of personality is demonstrated. Other characters, like Satterly, who comes from our world through a dimensional portal, are given personality but very little background. Characters that are introduced as villains are very interesting to begin with but come to abrupt ends that make their story lines seem superfluous. Additionally, the magic system is never explained and it's frustrating beyond belief. Characters are said to have gifts, such as Leadership or Elements, but the details of how the gifts work are not developed. In the end Midwinter is kind of maddening because so much of the book is really good. As I started reading the book I thought, this book reminds me why I like fantasy in the first place, and if the book had kept the excellence it displayed in the first third, I would say it was the best book I've read this year. As it is, I have to say it's the book with the most unrealized potential I have ever read. Yet, I am still totally willing to give the sequel Sturges is currently writing to Midwinter because, given the right kind of attention, the series could be really great. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

5 comments:

Wilson said...

I lol'ed at the talking trees. Have to say that was a great opener for the article ><

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely not your threatening sort of enchanted forest.

Kendall said...

It was difficult to concentrate on the review since I was giggling from the excerpt. ;-)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

That's too bad. It looked quite promising.

Tia Nevitt said...

The talking trees were a bit interesting. This book, along with Pati Nagle's The Betrayal, which also came out in March, are the first traditionally published debuts I've seen that features elf-like creatures in a while. Could be be seeing a new trend? Could the return of elves be upon us?