Set in a land populated by the traditions and pantheon of Norse mythology, The Blood Tainted Winter begins with the political horse-trading between lords as to who has enough support to be proclaimed the next king. This is something I always find interesting and, although Raef himself is not part of it, we do get his view of his father’s careful planning.
But when blood is repeatedly shed, either by incident or deliberation, things quickly escalate into a three-way struggle for supremacy. At first, Raef is only interested in seeking revenge for his father’s death but as war quickly engulfs the land he and his companions find themselves pulled in many different directions.
One of the things that I admired was the simple fact that Raef’s exploits often result in either him being out-manoeuvred by older, wiser opponents or having to make deals to placate a superior force. While there are clues early on that Raef can be quite skilled in a one-on-one fight, initially, you get the impression that most of the diplomacy and statecraft expected of him are more or less being made up on the spot. This results in him having to undertake tasks for one Lord, then another; a constantly shifting set of alliances that do lead to him having to mature in a short space of time.
Since the story is told exclusively from Raef’s perspective it is equally easy to both sympathize with his sense of loss and despair at his lack of foresight. The downside is that the supporting characters are given less development, which I hope is remedied in the next part of the trilogy.
The battles, as you might expect from the time period the setting evokes, are fast-paced and brutal with a fitting level of gritty realism. They build from individual fights to skirmishes to a fall scale siege. Similarly, the more fantastical/mythological elements are steadily laid in, culminating in the suggestion that the fabled Ragnarok might finally be on its way.
Recommended for any who enjoy Norse mythology or jut a strong gritty fantasy tale.
4 out of 5 fire cloaks.