Winter’s Reach is the first book in the Revanche Cycle by Craig Schaefer. It is also one of the #SPFBO 2017(Self Published Fantasy Blog Off) contestants in Fantasy Book Review’s group… that is to say, in the same group as Where Loyalties Lie. That’s right! I’m checking out my direct competition, but I do so on the recommendation of a couple of trusted bloggers who assured me I would enjoy it.
Winter’s Reach follows a whole bunch of characters as they either plot to undermine a regime, plot to stabilise a regime, plot to bring their families bank balance back to the black, plot to do witchy things, plot to start a war, or plot to make a bit of easy cash. Yup, this book is plots on top of plots on top of schemes. Everyone has an angle, everyone has secrets, and everyone wants something. In some ways it’s a bit like Game of Thrones in that there are tons of characters to follow and each one is some kind of bastard or another. Well, all except Felix the erstwhile nobleman, and Mari the knight aspirant. I don’t think those two have a bastard bone to share between them.
The title (Winter’s Reach) refers to a town up north in the arse end of cold nowhere. It’s an interesting concept of a ex slave colony turned free city and it’s run by a woman who seems very much like a mistress from a wild west town… only with more knives up her skirts. Unfortunately it barely features in the story. It’s a kick off point for Felix Nobleman’s quest to save his family coffers, but by about a third of the way in we’ve left the city never to return. It was a bit of a shame in many ways as I thought there could have been a lot more said about the town and its shaky politics.
The book has some real stand out scenes. One of these is early on and features a sea monster ripping a ship apart as the people on board attempt to flee through frozen waters to reach the relative safety of frozen tundra. It’s a really tense scene full of vivid imagery, and saved what was a fairly slow first quarter.
I struggled a little with the number of characters whose PoV (point of view) we ride along with. There are about a dozen, and it’s not exactly a long book. I kept finding myself having to remember who a certain character was because we left them behind a long time ago and suddenly we’re back in their head. This large number of characters also meant we didn’t get to spend too long with each one, so I struggled to connect with many of them. They were well fleshed out with aspirations and motives, but it felt like a bit of a whirlwind of PoVs and it rarely stopped on any one of them long enough for my liking. That being said, it’s a complicated plot so most of those PoVs were required. There was also a measure of head-hopping going on throughout chapters and as a personal taste, I really dislike head-hopping.
One last thing I do want to mention is the witches. I’m a fairly big fan of witches done well and they definitely are in Winter’s Reach. They operate in a coven of sorts that stretches far and wide. Each witch takes on an animal name and wears a mask depicting the face of that animal. Their magic too is a cool concept that seems to be focused through blood (and occasionally other bodily fluids). And one witch in particular, who we come to know as Owl, is a wonderfully dangerous character as intriguing as she is terrifying.
This all boils down to me really quite enjoying Winter’s Reach, but finding some flaws which kept me from loving it. I’m giving it 3.5 stars and rounding up to 4 for the purposes of Goodreads and Amazon.