Edition 16: Book Review: Winter by William Horwood
Reviewed by Sophie Yorkston
William Horwood returns after a decade break from original fantasy, and Winter is the culmination of his four seasonally-associated Hyddenworld books. It was his earlier writings in his Duncton Wood universe that meant these books went to the top of my reading list. I have reviewed the others in the series on my personal blog.
The Hyddenworld is a world of the little people, the Hydden, who live alongside the human world, their ways having parted from humans centuries ago. But the world is in grave danger, facing down universal calamity and the end of days. The earth is rebelling against a human society that has too long abused her, and the Hydden are left to fix it.
For the first time in centuries, the humans can see the Hydden and intrude upon their world with all the violence of humans who fear their own end. Their presence in the ancient Hydden city of Brum, threatens the spirit and existence of the cosmopolitan city.
As the world spirals towards destruction, time disappearing, the earth fracturing, and societal structures coming undone, Hydden academic and journeyman Bedwyn Stort is running out of time to find the fourth and final seasons gem for his love, the Shield Maiden, tool of fate and the broken world.
Winter takes the reader on desperate journeys between Birmingham, Uffington and Stonehenge. He has beautifully interwoven real world locations into his own Hyddenworld and given them a mythos and importance. There’s a nice parallel between the journey of life and the seasons. The Hydden lore strongly relies on the idea of fate, or ‘wyrd’ as they call it, harkening back to earlier eras in history.
In the later books of the series, there’s a strong moral theme deploring how humanity treats their home, the earth, and others with contempt, to only be used for their own gain. Horwood has hit on some of the major problems of humanity’s disconnect from others and from the environment which sustains them.
There’s some violence and a few gory descriptions, which harken back to what was one of the strengths in the political and religious storylines of Horwood’s Duncton Wood days, which fans of his earlier work will connect with.
My greatest disappointment in this book was that the women characters were largely contextual, and written for plot points, lacking a lot of their own agency. They are mothers and daughters and love interests, largely moved by hands of fate and would not stand on their own, which is hugely disappointing to me. They are central to the story but very rarely contribute to it, or are central to, or direct action. One of the characters, Ingrid, is introduced as intelligent and canny, but she immediately becomes a placeholder for a male character’s affections. We’ve come so far with speculative fiction but yet still so many writers neglect the female characters they write and fail to make them real or central to the narrative.
There’s also a huge amount of repetition, a retelling of the facts that went before in the series, which is a common complaint of mine when it comes to longer epic fantasy series. Most could be told contextually, and even where some information is required, too much was given.
The ending is also a little stilted. It’s broken into two parts, and while it rounds out the narrative, there were characters and events that would go against conventional wisdom by existing simultaneously in the same place at different stages of their life, without a good explanation. People who feel strongly about the rules of alternate dimensions and histories may find it bothers them.
Overall, this book had a nice progression of tension that lead to the climax, but I found that I wanted to leave it several times, due largely to the characterisation issues. Readers of epic fantasies will enjoy this book, but I would start with the first book, Spring, which really allow you to connect to the characters.
Winter, by William Horwood
Publisher: Macmillan, 2013
Sophie is a scientist, aspiring writer, sci-fi and fantasy nerd. She is an editor with IFWG Publishing and has been Editor In Chief of SQ Mag and SQ Magazine, the previous incarnation. She also contributes book and film reviews. She is currently living in Vancouver, Canada.
You can find her in a few different places: @Smoph on Twitter, Sophie Yorkston – writer on Facebook, and at her blogs: Smoph’s Musings and Smoph Writes.