The Tuesday List: Winter of our Discontent

Winter is here! Sort of.  Mostly.  Snow has hit the ground and stuck in the Northeast U.S., so I’m calling it.  Here, then, are a few books that are set in winter, or remind me of winter in some way.

And don’t worry, there’s no GRRMartin in sight.

  1. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

Though the Six Duchies get seasons just like (I suppose) mid-to-northern Europe does, it always seems to be winter when Fitz is running around, killing raiders and whatnot, so this series always makes me think of winter.  It’s a good read, too, for people who like pseudo-medieval-Europe and epic fantasy.

2. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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This novel begins on a snowy night at the beginning of winter in Toronto, when one man gasps his last on stage during a production of King Lear, and then civilization slowly collapses.  I remember well the vivid imagery of a young man pushing a shopping cart full of groceries through the slushy streets, hoping against hope to make it to his disabled brother’s high-rise apartment and somehow wait out the apocalypse.

3.  All the Windwracked Stars (Edda of Burdens book 1), by Elizabeth Bear

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This is the series I think of when I think of Norse mythology adaptations.  Ragnarok, snow and ice wrapped all around, and the Valkyries fighting for the light and their world.  Only one Valkyrie survives, along with a two-headed deer, the valraven, steed of the Valkyrie.  Millenia later, the fight takes new form in a world changed to almost unrecognizabilityfor Muire, the last Valkyrie.  But have others survived?  Where are the Gods of the north?  And what is she to do now?

4. Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier

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This  novel doesn’t take place during winter (as far as I can remember), or maybe it’s bright spring when the sun is shining but there’s still a coldness to the air.  Or maybe it’s the bleakness of the characters, the chilling fact that Kelpie can see ghosts and can’t help it, can’t get away from them, even as they beg her to avenge their deaths.  Or it might be the feeling of chill dampness that comes from Kelpie’s brief and mournful memories of growing up in Frog Hollow, before she found work and places to stay away from the horrible gully.  Despite the chills this novels brings, or perhaps because of them, it’s a stellar read and a great story of two girls sticking together to fight the gangs that have turned their neighborhood into a war zone.

5. Cold Magic (Spiritwalker trilogy book 1), by Kate Elliott

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Like many quality fantasy novels, Cold Magic begins in the winter with Cat, bound to marry a cold mage, one who can not only harness the power of ice, but who strips the heat from rooms kills fires with his very presence.  He is coldly arrogant, Cat hates him on sight, but must stay with him to protect her family.  What seems like the start of a cliched romance turns into anything but.

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Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb

Like
turning the page to the next chapter in a book, Fool’s Assassin gives readers the story of the next chapter in the
life of Fitzchivalry Farseer.  Dressed
in his finery and acting the lord of an estate, Fitz—or should we say Holder
Tom Badgerlock—is a fish out of water, practically gasping and flapping his way
through this new novel in Hobb’s Farseer world.  Having come back from the dead he’s finally been allowed to
settle down with his beloved Molly and try to live out his days in peace.  But the world soon catches up with him,
plunging him—and readers—into yet another epic series of intrigue and magic.

Told
primarily from Fitz’s point of view, the novel delves into the history and lore
of the Six Duchies, while the main plot of the novel is character-driven—Fitz
settling into a life, dealing with aging, fulfilling his role as master of the
estate he maintains for his daughter, Nettle, who is serving at court.  Though the novel reprises many of the
characters from Hobb’s previous novels set in this world, new readers won’t be
put off by starting with Fool’s Assassin,
as there is plenty of self-contained story and suspense even for those who
don’t know entire history already.

Hobb’s
choice of first-person narrative was a deft one, as much of the tension in the
novel is created by Fitz’s ability—or lack thereof—to run the estate and manage
his day-to-day relationships, contrasted with the obvious doubts of nearly
everyone around him about his abilities. 
The little things creep in around the edges of the story, giving the
reader clues to what will happen, and it is this juxtaposition between what the
reader can see and what Fitz can’t because he is so overwhelmed by his new life
and duties that creates the dramatic pull of the story.  Reconciliation is a major theme to this
novel, while family is what holds it together.  Hobb has set up great suspense and expectation for the next
installment in this new series.

Anyone
already in love with Hobb’s series from this world have probably already read
this by now, but if they haven’t can count on loving it.  Hobb’s ability to create tension and
great characters is alive and well and will pull in readers of epic
fantasy.  Readers looking for a
novel with teeth that exists within a thriving world will love Hobb’s writing
and world building.