There’s an unnaturally long winter that’s lasted for several years and no one knows why. At the start of the book, the elders have refused to move south to where the land might be more hospitable, despite the fact that people are starting to starve and animals/wildlife to hunt is becoming scarce. Stubborn is as stubborn does, and with the religious leaders advocating to stay and see what the gods intend for them, it makes getting people to leave difficult for those who want to leave.
To make matters worse, they get word from another village from a dying messenger that tells them that a heavily fortified city has fallen, and the invaders responsible left no one alive. This is incredibly disturbing to them because that particular fort should have been able to sustain a multi-year siege without much effort. What kind of force could take down something so formidable so quickly?
Ogulf and a few others convince a good amount of the village to flee, but the only way to leave in the middle of this overly-long winter is to go through a mountain pass known as Widow’s Peak (widow’s something, I didn’t write a note). It’s an extremely risky choice, but the other option is to stay and face a force that wiped out a much larger, much more defended city.
I think the strongest element of this story was the world building. For people who enjoy Nordic-adjacent stories with lots of lore, detailed histories, and a rich culture this is definitely going to be something you want to try. There was a nuanced depth created by minor details that were sprinkled throughout, rather than beating you in the head with it via info dumps. Magic is something most people are ignorant about since those that can wield it are rare, and there’s an uneasy/apprehensive attitude towards those who can. Melcun, one of Ogulf’s best friends, is able to throw fireballs from his hands giving this a very traditional epic-fantasy feel to the magic system. We get to learn more about the magic system when they encounter a culture that’s not as hands-off with their feelings on magic.
I liked both Ogulf and Melcun as a characters, but I didn’t necessarily love them. I think the book was more plot and world building focused which left the characters just a touch more sparse than I prefer. To truly 100% invest into a story, I personally need to be 100% behind the character as well as the plot. So this aspect of the story fell just a little short for me. That’s not to say that Ogulf or Melcun were flat or two dimensional, they just weren’t focused on as much as other elements of the story.
The prose was nice and readable, the dialogue had a touch of ‘old school’ feel to it without being over-written and bogging me down. For me, I need dialogue to flow and be quick and natural, I don’t enjoy dialogue that feels super old school and stiff, it’s just not my style. This was a nice brush of that sort of thing for flavoring without becoming overpowering. It’s a tough line to walk, and I’d say it was well done here. The plotting was also deftly done, there were multi levels of tension and problems that needed solving, from the personal/individual level to a world-ending catastrophic level. It kept me interested in all aspects of the story, and not just the end-goal of defeating the Onyxborn.
The pacing did slow for me in spots where there was a lot of journeying going on and not a lot of action or character development. While they were trekking across dangerous terrain in the mountains some inconsequential characters died to keep things a little interesting, but because they were peripheral characters I wasn’t familiar with, so it didn’t have much impact on me and it felt like just a blip on the journey. What I wanted to see were these badass Onyxborn that are fucking shit up and destroying cities. So, I ended up getting a little antsy while waiting for the action to kick up a notch. Things did pick up again towards the end as everything came together, and I feel the battle scenes were well written and engaging.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend this to people who like epic stories, incredible world building, and a nordic influence.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 10/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 75/100