- The Winter Road.
- Adrian Selby.
- 480 pages.
- Grimdark / Fantasy.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
The greatest empire of them all began with a road.
The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.
With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .
All roads lead back to war.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I started reading The Winter Road the day before Red Dead Redemption 2 came out. To say that I had been eagerly awaiting the release of that game would be a massive understatement! I have waited years to get my cowboy and Old West fix, years!🤠 Saying that, however, I played some of the game (it has a slow start but it’s good. Alas, only time will tell if it is as good as the first RDR game) but found myself inexplicably drawn back to Selby’s book. Given the opportunity over the past weekend to either play RDR 2 or read The Winter Road. At every opportunity I chose to read. So, yeah, the biggest endorsement I can give The Winter Road is that I chose the book over the game (that I’ve been absolutely dying for) and that my friends should tell you how fucking amazing this book is.
I have to admit to having a few issues with Selby’s previous book and his debut Snakewood. I thought that as an author Selby had some good ideas, a great cast of grizzled old mercenaries and that the story that he was telling was interesting but, I also struggled with the book finding the writing style hard going particularly at the beginning (though I did become accustomed to it later in the book). One thing that I did take away from my time spent reading Snakewood though was that I thought Selby had plenty of potential. Now, after finishing The Winter Road I’m pleased to see that Selby has lived up to that potential as, honestly, I’m struggling to find fault with the book. For me, in The Winter Road, Selby has created a bleak, dark and gritty yet emotional tale that sits firmly in the ‘must read‘ category of grimdark books.
At the start of The Winter Road, there are duel timelines (then and now). Both timelines do a good job of bringing the story that Selby is telling together. Giving you the whole picture on the events that transpire. Inevitably and as is the wont with duel narratives you get to the point where the past (then) timeline gets to the starting point of the present (now) timeline and the two converge into a single present-day storyline.
Then, where Teyr Amondson a former mercenary turned merchant sets out with a large caravan (including her lover and his son, other merchants, Crogan Othbutter, the Chief’s younger brother and mercenary crews for protection) from Hillfast, the capital of the Circle to bring her dream to fruition of a connected Circle. Using her accumulated wealth to build roads and outposts and establishing a trade route across the Circle connecting the various settlements, clans and bloodlands (including her own) together. Building relationships between them all, making the clans thrive and forging a prosperous future for the area.
At the same time as Teyr and her caravan embark on their journey from Hillfast, the warlord, Samma Khiese (the youngest son of one of the clan families) has risen in power in the Circle. Khiese along with his army of whiteboys (they have their faces painted with a white chalk paste) is out to bring the clans of the Circle and their sworn families to heel, asserting his order and rule over them. Turning them away (through sadistic threats and the use of brutal violence if they don’t swear loyalty to or stand against him) from the fealty that they have sworn to Chief Othbutter (who apart from collecting tithes doesn’t do anything for the clans or the Circle) and Hillfast. The caravan crosses paths with the Warlord and Teyr falls foul of Khiese and his demands.
Now, after Teyr has been attacked and left for dead. She struggles to carry on, to find a will to live and to survive. She has endured more heartbreak, grief, loss, sorrow and trauma than any single person should. I won’t go into detail (it’s not my style) but a short time after the narratives merge Teyr is given a choice. She can either go to the gallows and choose death. Or, she can choose life and vengeance by attempting to take her revenge on Khiese who’s grip on the Circle is widening. Joining a small crew (that includes members from Teyr’s former crew that was once rife with broken bonds and betrayals) who have taken on a crossroads (you have to fulfil the obligations and terms of the purse or die trying) purse to kill Khiese and rid the Circle of the Warlord.
I loved the use of plants in The Winter Road. They were a tremendous idea in Snakewood and this time around they are implemented to perfection by Selby. Various leaves, plants, seeds and bark are used individually or mixed together to form different pastes, poisons, spore bags, brews and rubs which are all concocted and made by a Drudha (a plant mixer, each mercenary crew has their own and they have their own recipes). Brews enhance your abilities and heighten your senses (strength, endurance, you can see in the dark, smell, hearing, muscles grow, time seems to slow). Plants are also used in poisons and antidotes, to bind and heal wounds and in medicine.
The use of plants, however, is not without a cost and there is a price to pay. Day brews give you an edge but are not as potent as the fight brews that the mercenaries take to aid them in battle but all leave an indelible mark. The colour of your eyes, skin and veins will permanently change (the colour depending on what plants are used in the brew). You can become addicted to the plant and women are left barren by the fight brews they take. And, after every brew there is a coming down period, you suffer from the shakes, weakness, you can’t defend yourself or do anything. There’s a reason that taking brews is called ‘paying the colour‘ and you have to pay the colour after taking a brew.
I found The Winter Road to be both story-driven and character-driven and for me, Selby got the balance just right. The first part of the book is quite slow-paced and Selby gives his characters and his story plenty of time to settle in both of the narratives. Without rushing, he allows the reader the chance to become acquainted with the characters, the setting and the story that is taking place and unfolding.
There’s some action in The Winter Road but it’s not until the two timelines come together and the pacing quickens that the action (Selby is great at writing visceral action scenes) is ramped up and finally comes to the fore.
Selby’s writing draws you in and Teyr, herself is a remarkable main character, damaged and scarred both inside and out with her own voice and personality. She’s been through so much yet still, somehow, manages to keep going. Plenty of the other characters also have stellar characterisation too.
The world-building is rich and on point and the Circle is a tremendous setting for The Winter Road to take place that comes to life and is well-realised by Selby. Various clans and their lands dotted around and spread throughout a harsh location that is hard to traverse and in the centre, The Almet, the heart of the Circle and the forest where the mysterious Oskoro reside.
For the last fifty pages, The Winter Road ends with a series of letters sent over a span of years. Correspondence between Teyr and Aude that document their lives, Teyr’s plans, her travels, her business interests and her work as she sets about fulfilling her dream and realising her goal of establishing a trade route and road across the Circle. The letters are a fantastic way to finish the book adding extra depth to both the characters lives and the world.
There is a darkness to The Winter Road and the story that Selby is telling. It is a tale fermented in misery and steeped in pain with Selby putting his characters through many a hardship. There is suffering aplenty handed out for many involved and the world is savage. The journeys undertaken are fraught with peril and the Circle is a cruel mistress for those who inhabit it.
I was drawn to the darkness in The Winter Road and I absolutely loved it!
Pre-order The Winter Road released November 15th, 2018.
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