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Winterbirth (The Godless World) Paperback – September 10, 2007

3.3 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Godless World Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Scottish author Ruckley's outstanding fantasy debut, the first installment of the Godless World trilogy, introduces a sprawling realm abandoned by the gods after two races united to destroy a third. The peoples left behind struggle with centuries-old prejudices and unresolved conflicts that threaten to destroy them all. The start of winter is traditionally a time of celebration, but when the elflike Kyrinin and religious fanatics called Inkallim interrupt the festivities at Castle Kolglas with a masterfully planned attack, the bloodshed is just the first move in an apocalyptic war that won't end until the world itself is unmade. As Ruckley chronicles the plight of numerous characters through an increasingly chaotic landscape, he develops unsubtle allegories to recent world history and some of humankind's more obvious shortcomings like bigotry, greed and apathy. The author's unapologetically stark yet darkly poetic narrative displays a refreshing lack of stereotypical genre conventions, ensuring a fervent audience of epic fantasy fans looking for something innovative in a genre that can be anything but. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Scotsman Ruckley's first novel launches a promising trilogy set in the unromanticized medieval Highlands. The gods and their magic have departed, and grim feuds and endless skirmishing prevail as the weather gets ever colder. Chief among feuding clans are the Haigs, and chief among their warriors is a thane in whom some of the old powers may be awakening. This isn't necessarily good news for the Haig clan, for those powers will make their already murderous battles even grislier. But it isn't bad news for readers, since it makes the book much more difficult to put down. Green, Roland
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Product Details

  • Series: The Godless World (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; First Edition edition (September 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316067695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316067690
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,684,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth is a good standard adventure fantasy. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in able storytelling. The heroes are likable and the villains are formidable. Although it starts sloooow, the pace accelerates by page 150. At times, the chase scenes are memorably breathless. I would compare the novel to David Durham's Acacia because both novels feature two cultures--one revenging past treatment, the other defending its border--battling for the same territory. (Acacia is probably the better novel.)

I think that the author wants to eschew a clear-cut good versus evil story; however Kanin and Wain are too grim for the Bloods of the Black Road to seem like anything other than bad guys. Ruckley does a better job of humanizing Aeglyss; although he is a cliché, I suspect he will be the most interesting character of the series.

The premise of a godless world is intriguing, but it does not impact the world in a significant way. I think that the absence of the gods should be felt more in the story. The author tries to personalize his world by calling elves "Kyrinin" and magic "The Shared," but his efforts at distinction are mostly weak. Despite the author's debt to Tolkien (Inurian could be Gandalf's long-lost twin), thankfully nothing resembling Orcs make an appearance. Ruckley provides a lot of history and background, some of it unnecessary. For example, if Whreinin and Saolin are not in the story, why mention them?

I applaud the author on his treatment of Anyara. Some authors seem to revel in depravity, especially when women are targets (Robert Newcomb's The Fifth Sorceress comes to mind), but Ruckley exhibits commendable restraint. In general, he avoids gore and gratuity, which bodes well for the series.

While Ruckley won't write George R.R. Martin out of a job, he's a good enough writer. I'll read what he writes next.
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Format: Paperback
It would be easy to characterize Winterbirth as akin to historical fiction, but really it reads more like a novelization of history, ala 1776, rather than just a novel. Fantasy setting aside, like a historical novel, the book is one of events more than characters. The cover states, "It is a World of Ice, It is a World of Blood, It is a Godless World." That's pretty much what the book is about - the world.

The first many pages are dedicated entirely to background - we witness a variety of events that take place in the long ago, but that have shaped in a significant way the `present' in which most of the book takes place. These sections provide context for the events that come later, and in this way make the world seem more realized than is typical for a fantasy genre story. Give author Brian Ruckley credit, he knows his world and its history.

However, like one often finds in an academic's attempt to make history interesting, you find two things missing: One, a focus on a specific dramatic tension, and two, the gritty details. A variety of moving pieces play out their parts in Winterbirth, none really taking primacy. To be sure, each constituency represented in the book has its own demons, its own goals, its own agendas. However, to paraphrase the characters in `The Incredibles', when everyone is special, nobody is. Winterbirth _is_ like real life that way - but frankly, there's a reason more people read novels than histories. When I mention details, I don't merely mean the details of the events taking place, but detail of the characters, detail of the environment. Human beings sense smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. Each of these senses should be engaged by the author to bring the reader into the tale, but Mr. Ruckley rarely engages more than three of these.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm struggling to separate my astonishment at some of the reviews with my true feelings towards the novel. Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth is at BEST a promising novel. I understand the difficulties in breaking into a well established genre, and applaud Ruckley for (seemingly) being able to do so successfully. However, as much as the publishers and authors would like it to be, not every debut fantasy can be suddenly catapulted into the all time hall of fame. As my title suggests, almost everything about Winterbirth is decent; Story, Characters, Misc.

The story is... decent, but it takes awhile to get to that point. I don't agree with some of the extreme arguments about the beginning. Ruckley does a fair job, setting the world and backdrop that influences the rest of the book. While the story may be gritty in some parts, it's not done so as to be entirely original, nor does it greatly improve the use of realism. When someone writes a story with historical overtones, set in a genre called "dark fantasy," it's kind of a given that it needs to be realistic. Anyway, the story drags a bit until the last quarter where it, and strangely the quality of writing, picks up and finishes with more of a whimper than a bang. Moreover, while the last quarter saves my desire to read a sequel, it doesn't instill in me a great need to buy it in hardback.

The characters take awhile to get interested in. They're written in such a way as to seem less important than the world they live in, the context of events, and the even the scenery. As mentioned before, it really isn't until the last quarter of the book that the author seemingly puts a little more importance in the characters than everything else. They are dry, sometimes uninteresting.
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