When House Kérbholán is destroyed, purged by enemies and allies alike, only Kérbholán Néit seems to have escaped with breath in his lungs. Assisted by a scant few trusted friends and holding the lone item left to carry his ancestry, Néit pursues understanding, revenge, and above all, survival in The Old Way of Winter by M. P. Goodwin, Book 1 of The Nimedian Ways.
Firstly, the cover needs mention, as it is subtle and appropriate; the illustration (credited to Louis Lafont) is reminiscent of the covers and images in Tolkien works. The connection is perfectly suitable and the slight homage is in good taste.
Moving on, the writing is simple, but almost overly so. Setting and detail are front and center, but presented in a mild and more basic, storyteller style that focuses on snippets that might be interesting to the simple, older-time characters but less so to the modern reader. It really is cut from the same cloth as classic Tolkien fiction in this sense. Still, it does falter a bit in its particularly sparse approach where the fascinating and wonderful differences are fewer and farther between. This more uncomplicated manner extends out to the plot at large: the story is reasonably straightforward and holds off on the more complex routes that it could have gone, considering the different elements involved from the first chapter. For a political and low-fantasy setting, the author wisely employs the subtler approaches.
That isn’t to say that it’s an easy journey, as start to finish the tale is dramatic, but still restrained and relaxed. The read feels smooth through every peak and trough of the characters experience, which takes a lot of skill in the writing. The book makes up a really cohesive, frequently unique and distinctive world. The characters themselves feel very much a product of the setting, and while in certain ways fall just a bit underdeveloped, they are certainly the emotional and logical centers of the story and deliver well. They’re interesting, their flaws adding much color, but they often still feel just short of truly explored.
The final pages seem curtailed just a tad as the events draw off in preparation for the second book. I didn’t feel short-changed by what I had, yet I am anxious to see how the series develops. It takes some time to find investment in The Old Way of Winter, but most Fantasy fans are fairly likely to get into the book with its genre-typical slow burn maintained by the author throughout. To wax metaphorical, the palette of the tale is muted and sometimes cold or even traumatic, but properly chosen for a detailed and beautiful read certain to enthrall a majority of readers of varying ages.
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