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In Wintercraft, we meet Kate Winters, a young girl who discovers that she has the power to see through the veil and command the souls of the dead. She and her friend, Edgar -- who is more than he first appears to be -- are taken to the city of Fume and caught up in a power struggle between the Skilled and the High Council, who wish to destroy them.
Wintercraft is a really mixed bag. At times the writing is excellent, demonstrating real skill in keeping the pages turning and the tension ratcheted up to the maximum. Yet, especially towards the end of the novel, when you would have expected Jenna Burtenshaw to utilize the best of her writing in the climactic finale, everything falls rather flat and left me feeling disappointed. In addition, the fate of Da'ru is somewhat confusing. Kate's actions in this sequence are written in a dreamlike manner, unlike everything that comes before, which raises the question of whether Da'ru is really vanquished or not.
In terms of characterisation, Burtenshaw makes Silas Dane everything he needed to be: the fierce, silent killer on Kate's trail, genuinely terrifying as he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Despite his dark past and his actions during the novel, Burtenshaw ensures that the reader feels real sympathy for his plight.
On the flip side, Kate is a rather lacklustre heroine. She accepts her mystical powers with practically zero qualms and watches people die at Silas' hands without really batting an eyelid. I struggled to feel any empathy for her. Edgar is presented in a deliberately mysterious, heavy-handed manner that grows tired very quickly, and his relationship with Kate, such as it is, comes out of nowhere. Lastly, Da'ru is a pantomime villain. She monologues about her evil plans, and does evil for the sake of evil and to gain ultimate power. We learn little about her true motivations. WHY has she decided to pierce the veil and bring the dead back to life. WHAT, in her past, made her cause the death and mayhem during this novel? I asked these questions, but received no answers.
During the course of Wintercraft, Burtenshaw also provides us with several series' worth of exposition, long, descriptive passages where all the details we require to get us up to speed are told, not shown. The first five pages of chapter seven, for instance, give us a potted history of Albion. It's interesting, but there are far more effective ways to convey this.
Despite all this, Burtenshaw's writing shows a real flair at times, and there is promise for the future. I forgive much thanks to the vivid, evocative description of the Night Train:
"Light flooded the walls, the rumble of wheels echoed through Kate's bones and the night train thundered into the station, groaning and grunting like a vast malodorous beast. It was a moving stink of dripping oil, hot grinding metal and burning fumes; a patchwork of heavy repairs, newly forged metal and old hammered panels all riveted together into one scarred machine. Its massive wheels growled against the pressure of the brakes and its metal carriages rolled behind, each one windowless and terrifying accompanied by the creaking sound of hanging chains."
In summary, I enjoyed Wintercraft to a point, but, with so much truly excellent YA fantasy fiction being published right now, it feels mediocre in comparison. Overall, it's ordinary, but with occasional flashes of brilliance. I think Burtenshaw has more (and better) to come. I will pick up future novels by Burtenshaw, but won't be rushing to the store on release date.
Wintercraft is the debut novel by Jenna Burtenshaw and it was published in May 2010.
In Morvane, while getting ready to open her Uncle Artemis' bookstore on the busiest day of the year, Kate Winters doesn't realise that her whole life is about to change. Wardens from the High Council raid the town, lead by Silas Dane, a notorious killer, in order to find something that they want. One of the Skilled, someone who can see between the veil of life and death. Morvane has been left alone for a long time but now, the Wardens and Silas know exactly who they want. Kate.
When Kate and Artemis realise that she is one of the Skilled, Artemis takes a drastic move in order to save his niece. He's taken away by the Wardens just Kate's parents were 10 years earlier. Kate must try to hide what she is in order to save herself and to help her Uncle but Silas isn't someone who can be fooled. He wants Kate to help him but he isn't the only one with a need for her power.
Kate wants nothing to do with her newfound powers and abilities but she isn't given much of a choice concerning what she must do. There is only one thing standing between her and helping Silas in his mission...the book of Wintercraft.
What I thought
Wintercraft is exactly what a young adult fantasy book should be. Jenna Burtenshaw, in her debut novel, has created a gothic world full of mystery, magic and mayhem. The cover of the book is very well fitting and will give you an idea of the world that you are about to be transported to. The descriptions of the different settings were so vivid that I truly felt like I was a part of the story and it was actually pretty scary. There is no way that I would want to be Kate, having to deal with everything that she does throughout the story. Each setting has a history all of its own and one that made me want to know more. It was very interesting just how different some of the places were. Morvane and Fume couldn't be more different yet they still have some similarities due to what is happening.
Wintercraft is a very well paced story. Although it was quite slow at times, there was also a fair amount of fast paced action scenes. While I like action in the books that I read, I don't want it to happen on every single page. Having the slower parts of the story gave me time to catch my breath and reflect on what had just happened. I felt like the plot picked up exactly where it need to in order to keep readers hooked, which is exactly how I felt. I do think that Wintercraft is very much a 'build up' book and that the second in the series is going to reveal a lot of what I wanted to find out.
Kate was wonderful as the main character. What made me like her so much was that she's a mix of everything that I both love and hate in female characters in this genre. There were times when I thought she was incredibly strong and brave to do some of the things that she does but then it was counterbalanced with a softness and vulnerability. While Kate wants to get away from Silas and save her Uncle, she also understands that she has to make some sacrifices to get what she wants and that means not doing what she thinks is right. Kate's personality is very mixed and because of this, I never really knew what she was going to do, making everything an exciting mystery. It did take me a little while to warm to her though but I think that was mainly down to the story being told in 3rd person. I really like knowing what's going on in a character's head so maybe if it had been written in 1st person, I would have liked her more earlier on in the story.
Silas Dane is the ultimate bad guy but I loved him anyway. As a man who doesn't give a thought to killing people and doing what he has to, I should have hated him because he was horrible and selfish. But I didn't. There's something about Silas that drew me to him and I think that was not knowing his full story. A lot of what has happened to him is explained in Wintercraft but I definitely think that there is more to come. Even though he is the bad guy, I was also able to see and understand his reasons for being the way that he is and I think that is one of the biggest things that made me not hate him.
There is no romance in Wintercraft which was such a welcome change for me. As much as I enjoy the love triangles and usually routing for the other guy, it was nice to read a book that was ALL about the story for a change. I do have a feeling that romance is going to come for Kate in the second book and I have a few guesses already about what might happen. As Wintercraft is so unpredictable in its plot (in a good way), I fear that I am going to be completely wrong and something totally different will happen.
Wintercraft is something different from a lot of YA novels that are being released at the minute and an amazing first release from Jenna Burtenshaw. Book 2 in this series, Wintercraft: Blackwatch is due to be released in April 2011 which is way too far away for my liking.
Thanks to Headline for providing me with a copy of Wintercraft for review. You can head over to the website for the book here: http://www.wintercraft.co.uk