Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Blood-Tainted Winter Is A Winner

I recently read an affecting debut novel titled The Blood-Tainted Winter. Written by T.L. Greylock, the book is the first of what I understand will be a trilogy.

The Blood-Tainted Winter takes its name from a line in the epic medieval poem Beowulf, which suggests its setting in ancient blood-stained lands. Set in the far north and peopled by Norsemen, The Blood-Tainted Winter is the story of Raef Skallagrim, a young man who is about to set off on a life-defining sea voyage, when his father, the lord of Vannheim and possible successor to the king, is murdered. Raef is a classic reluctant hero. Against his desires he’s drawn into the resulting turmoil. Raef doesn’t know who killed his father, nor does he know the reason the man was murdered. But he wants vengeance.

The Blood-Tainted Winter is a story of the war that grows in the vacuum of a dead king. It is also a complex tale with dozens of characters spread over a large canvas, lords from many lands jockeying for position and fighting side-by-side with the warriors who’ve sworn allegiance to them. 

Greylock seems to be a student of medieval war strategy, and I learned a thing or two about fighting with swords and spears from horseback and with knives and axes on the ground, mano a mano.

While Greylock’s novel doesn’t feature an appearance of a vicious monster on the scale of Beowulf’s Grendel, the novel is quite violent, and it doesn’t shy away from the realities of war in an era when each warrior carried multiple weapons and didn’t hesitate to use any or all of them dispatching enemies.

In addition to burly men who fit our image of brutal vikings, there are also female warriors who are as deadly as any man. Add to the mix a collection of gods and half-gods, some benevolent and some not, wolves and ravens and crows that may or may not be as they appear, a shapeshifter or three and other possibly magical characters, and you realize that T.L. Greylock has done some serious world building. At the end of the book is a list of the characters. I counted 59 of them, which communicates a sense and scope of Greylock’s vision.

The Blood-Tainted Winter is not for the squeamish. And while I didn’t find the violence gratuitous, it was dramatic and abundant. Many people die by these medieval weapons. Blood flows and heads roll, sometimes literally.

Less plentiful, but still there, were tender moments, touching scenes of friendship and love. There is even the occasional child trying to survive in an epic landscape that provides little if any tolerance for play or delight or mirth.

The book is well-written, and Greylock has professional chops. I knew I was in good hands from the well-constructed and unhurried beginning, which is populated with many marvelous sentences such as “Raef let his anger slide away, a silver mackerel in the dark fjord waters not to be forgotten."

As violent and dangerous as the world of The Blood-Tainted Winter is, I liked spending time there. Perhaps I was attracted by the beautiful world of snow and ice in a vast land of forests and mountains and lakes not unlike the Sierra where I live. This harsh, elemental place with a hostile climate contrasts with the warmth of men and women with a deep sense of history and friendships. I was also drawn to those moments that reveal the connections and bonds between the characters, the thoughtful and telling dialogue, the strategies of both friends and foes, the feasts cooked over fires and cemented by a celebratory sharing of mead, a honey wine. I found myself worrying over the fate of the characters. And since I finished the book, I’ve often revisited it in my mind and imagined what it would be like to have lived in that time and place.

The Blood-Tainted Winter is an atmospheric tale that envelops you like a heavy mist flowing out of the northern forests, its scents as enticing as they are ominous. You will not soon forget the characters, virtuous and evil, the promises of allegiance and the treachery of lies, the sounds and smells of the charging horses, the battles on foot with the spray of sweat and blood, the sharp pain of physical wounds and the longer-lasting scars of betrayal.

If you like to spend time in a world unlike any you’ve ever experienced, give The Blood-Tainted Winter a try. You may, like me, find yourself entranced and eager to find out what happens to Raef and company in Greylock’s next installment.

If you want to check in on Greylock's progress, you can visit Greylock's blog here:

No comments:

Post a Comment