Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening
Hi, I’m Dan contributor to the thebookinhand.com and today I will be sharing my review of ‘The Winter Road’ by Adrian Selby.
A gritty and epic adventure to appeal to fans of Mark Lawrence, Andrzej Sapkowski and Joe Abercrombie – The Winter Road is a fantasy novel which remembers that battles leave all kinds of scars.
The greatest empire of them all began with a road.
The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.
With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .
All roads lead back to war.
I will begin by saying this has become one of my favourite standalone fantasy novels and that this novel is the very definition of a grim dark novel!! It’s one few books that have made it onto my list of a select few, that really achieve the grim dark style successfully.
This is exactly the kind of fantasy that I’ve been seeking out since the beginning of my journey into the fantasy genre. It’s darker, more violent and does push the boundaries more than most mainstream fantasy writers. I love the totally uncompromising approach Selby has to his writing and I think he’ll have a real cult following going forward. What he’s achieved in a short novel is truly astounding. I enjoyed the format of the novel, going from past to present for the first half of the book and then taking a more linear approach towards the final conclusion, which was very different approach and it was skilfully delivered. It really did feel like a a really well rounded, fully fleshed out novel. Selby is one author that has mastered the art of saying more with less.
The plot in a nutshell…..We follow our main protagonist Teyr Amondsen is a vetran soldier and and wealthy merchant. Teyr’s intentions are to unite the clans, to build the infrastructure and rebuild old relationships amongst the warring the clans. But but the path to prosperity is most definitely paved in blood. Her plans are thwarted by a ruthless warlord with his band of psychotic white boys who have similar intentions for the circle and there methods are beyond ruthless. What she encounters is a horror that she thought existed only in her nightmares but has now become her reality. She’s now faced with the brutal reality of life within circle and she’s being lead back down the road to war.
The world that Selby has created is one of the most beautiful, but brutal worlds that that I’ve encountered in a some time. The corruption and the sense of hopelessness is rife within this world and it’s hard to distinguish between the hero’s and the villains within the power structures of this world. So yes the majority of the cast is just filled with very morally grey characters as you would expect. What I found really interesting is the focus on the biggest commodity in this world which is Botanical trade. The various mysterious plants are used for medicinal purposes and other practical uses, but by far the most interesting was it’s uses in warfare. So this is what gave this novel a very unique angle and was the first time I’ve encountered something like that in a fantasy novel. It was also presented as a magic system almost, which i found quite innovative, but I’ll talk about that later in the review. There are magic users present within this story are the Oskoro who live deep within the Amulet forest and they have mysterious history surrounding them. They’re part of Teyr’s story and are the only significant thing that introduces those fantasy elements into this novel and served there purpose really well. That aspect of the book was very much shrouded in mystery which made it feel like it had a heavier presence in the novel. I would definitely love to read another novel and puts a focus on them, because they are fascinating.
The characterisation is as amazing as the world that Selby has created. We follow Teyr Amondsen who is one of the strongest female leads that I’ve encountered for some time. Her character totally pushes the boundaries of the female hero character trope. As we get to know her, it was clear that she had the noblest of intentions with her mission and her tenacity to succeed was overwhelming. Her journey really does push her to the very limits of the human experience. What her character goes through is truly horrific and more than any human should be able to withstand. It was hugely emotive seeing that suffering through her eyes, but made the experience feel so real and and I was overwhelmed with compassion for her character. She’s not without her flaws and her ambition sometimes blinds her from making the right decision and has truly devastating consequences for herself and those she loves. Selby does really paint the picture of a very majestic view of her family life, which deepens your appreciation of her complex character and it adds another dimension to her. The character development is incredibly skillful in its delivery and it’s an emotional roller coaster from start to finish and you really need to prepare for heartbreak. But you really understand her motivations and everything that has lead her to that point, making her a fully fleshed out character. But it is her maternal nature, that makes her a balanced character and really humanised her. It creates a real contrast between who she’s was, to who she has the desire to become. In crafting Teyr’s character he’s managed to create a totally unforgettable leading lady. It’s without doubt some of the best character work I’ve ever read.
The entire cast was phenomenal and they felt totally authentic and believable in the roles that they served. Our villain Khiese was a wonderfully crafted character and Selby delivered as much character development that was necessary and still managed to conjure a very menacing presence in this world in the early stages of this tale. We’re privy to a lot of very interesting war torn heroes in the latter part of the novel, that had there place in Teyr’s past, which really added more depth to Teyr’s back story. So as I mentioned earlier Selbys achieved so much with his character work in this short novel.
The world building isn’t hugely extensive but this is very much a character driven novel. But as I mentioned earlier it does still feel like a fully fleshed out world, mainly with the format Selby used. It does put a lot of focus on our characters which is its main focus. We do spend most of our time in a harsh snow covered forests and in amongst small settlements and homesteads as we follow the path through the circle. Selby really does capture the harsh reality and the unforgiving nature of life within the circle and it feels so real. But the minimal world building, is a less is more scenario and is still very easy to get lost and feel totally immersed in this world. Everything in this world is deeply captivating and flows effortlessly and feels authentic.
So as I mentioned earlier, I really like the innovative approach to using botanicals as a functioning magic system of sorts. I just thought it was simple, but very innovative and had a big presence in this novel. The fight brews meant that the individual that’s consumed them is able to exceed their normal human limitations and exhibit sharpened senses and manifested a level of aggression that made them into fiercest warriors imaginable. So yes the fight scenes are totally brutal . Its effects almost seemed comparable to a narcotic and had a detrimental effect if brewed in the wrong hands. Which gives birth to the nature of the white boys.But the reason why I compare it to a magic system is that it functions like one and was presented like one. The rules applied to most modern magic systems were the same in terms of knowing it’s limitations and what it was capable of and also its flaws. I really like this innovation I thought it worked really well and added a unique dimension to this novel. It did really create an almost supernatural quality to the White boys which was truly haunting, the strategies they used were comparable to a wolf pack and the psychological effect on there victims was almost sadistic. It did heighten the impact of the White boys and you genuinely feel the anxiety within the characters and totally made the experience so much more engaging.
I really loved Selbys writing style, he incorporated stylised grammar and language that added to the charm of this world and still managed to show off his pretty flawless prose. In general terms I loved this book because I thought the character work was phenomenal and as huge grim dark fan I felt that it was everything it should have been. This is fantasy that is truly dark and more violent than most mainstream fantasy novels and is not for the faint of heart. So I can see why this book may not be for everyone. But It is in many regards totally uncompromising and I have to say that I have huge respect for Selby for taking that position. This without question one of my favourite grim dark novels!!! But it was balanced, it wasn’t totally hopeless and there are certain elements to Teyr’s journey that shined a little brighter and presented a sense of hope that left me feeling content especially in the latter part of the book.
I’m so excited to get into Snakewood and the Brother Red and going forward I will be reading everything that he releases. I am 110% sold on his work. Also if you’re a fan of Selby I think you will love The legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar. Another unusual Grim dark novel.