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Winterstrike - Liz Williams

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Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Author: Liz Williams / Hardcover / 358 Pages / Book is published 2008-09-05 by Tor

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      01.01.2009 12:06
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      A superb start to a trilogy that leaves you breathless for more.

      The start of any new trilogy is fraught with danger. There needs to be enough to capture the reader's attention and leave them wanting more. Yet, whilst the fact that there is more needs to be obvious, you need to leave the reader with a sense of wonder at exactly what this more may be. There needs to be enough story here, but enough potential story left at the end to sell the other two parts. If the balance is right, the author leaves the reader begging for more and that's exactly what Liz Williams has done here.

      In the Martian city of Winterstrike, the Harn family are preparing for the festival of Ombre. To the reluctance of their two mothers, their middle daughter Leretui is allowed out of her locked and windowless room for the first time since she disgraced herself and her family by consorting with an undesirable at the previous year's festival. Perhaps predictably, she takes the opportunity to escape and her older sister Essegui is sent after her into the mountainous region of the Noumenon.

      Far away, their cousin Hestia is in the rival city of Caud, searching for details of an ancient weapon that they are rumoured to possess. She finds this, but Caud is attacked soon after, leaving Hestia feeling guilty that she may have caused this to happen by passing over the details. At the same time, up in the Noumenon, a band of creatures thought to exist in smaller numbers and a far less organised fashion are planning an attack to restore their figurehead to power in Winterstrike. A centipede Queen from Earth also has an interest in this and Leretui seems to be important to everyone, although not always for the same reasons.

      If this wasn't already intriguing enough, some of the ideas Williams has come up with are incredible. Admittedly, the thought of a society made up completely of women isn't a new one and the political manoeuvring is something you see a lot, but it's the details that really make this story. The armour that warriors wear, for example, uses something called haunt-tech, which is essentially power generated by the spirits of former warriors. It's an idea so wonderful in its imagination that I couldn't help but be impressed by it. Even better, rather than going into the mechanics of this haunt-tech and taking some of the magic out of it, Williams just puts the idea out there and lets the reader's imagination do what it will with it.

      The excisseres are another masterful touch; women armed with scissors who are pretty much the Martian police and who communicate through visual images of wounds on their armour. The idea of the library of Caud taking a ghost form and being able to follow Hestia around to give advice was as unexpected as it was marvellous. The soul stealing to control people isn't an entirely new concept, but the way Essegui used the technique at one point late on added an interesting twist to it and some of the things the centipedes were used for was innovative and unusual as well. This is without even thinking about the race known as the Changed; people or creatures who have been modified, such as the vulpen who have retractable blades in their feet to help them move around the ice world that is Mars.

      Of course, you can have any numbers of new ideas without having a decent story, but Williams combines them both. Leretui was never quite what she appeared to be, Peto was hiding a secret from Hestia and I was never entirely sure whose side Rubirosa was on at any given point, not even if she was on her own side. Essegui's aims were fairly clear, or seemed to be, but the person who was helping to control her didn't have the same obvious motives and Hestia's outlook changed frequently the more information she found out and the less she became able to trust her superiors and more or less everyone else she encountered.

      Williams' writing kept pretty much all of the characters off balance throughout the entire novel and, thus, keeps the reader off balance in the same way. They thought they knew what was coming, as did I, and both were wrong. Characters appeared and disappeared, not always with the same aims or having made progress between the two points. I've come to the end of the book with no clearer idea of exactly what is going on than I had when I started.

      When the end came, despite the impressive cliff hanger the book finished on, I was furious. "You can't leave it there!" I thought. "What about her, where is she? " But, of course, Williams could leave it there and did and all I'm left with is the desperate hope that the continuation isn't too far into the future. This was such a wonderful story and there is clearly much, much more to come. But, at this point in proceedings, I have no idea which direction that will take me, I only know that I really want to find out. With a cheapest price of £4.99 for the hardback from the Amazon Marketplace, becoming as involved as I did in this story doesn't break the bank.



      This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk.

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