Winterstrike and Caud, two Martian cities, have been fighting intermittently for quite some time over land. Each blame the other for this repetitive conflict and even now, with a bigger evil descending on Mars, the finger is pointed at the other.
Hestia Mar is a spy from Winterstrike in Caud, searching for information in the ruins of its library. When she comes across details of a weapon she does her duty and sends it back to her city. She also comes across a small device that turns out to be the ghost of the library who has been given a mission to watch over Hestia, but this information can’t be revealed.
Essegui Harn, cousin of Hestia, is the eldest daughter to a family, one with high ambitions and terrible secrets. Her sister, Shorn, has been stripped of her birth name for consorting with a Vulpen, a man-remnant, an act that brings shame to the family. She is locked in her room for her behaviour, never allowed out. As Ombre approaches and the festival is to begin, Essegui convinces her parents to release Shorn for the night, allowing her some limited freedom for the night.
Secret experiments of Winterstrike’s past are now rising from the shadows and putting Mars in danger: the weapon found by Hestia will soon be used. While Hestia is attempting to return to Winterstrike, Essegui chases her sister who has escaped her confinement and is now on the run. Hoping against hope that she is not heading for the rumoured Vulpen across the plains and driven by a terrible act that has stolen part of her soul. With events building and revelations forthcoming, will Winterstrike – and Mars – survive?
Winterstrike is the kind of novel that I would not normally get into, but with such an intriguing write up, plus being the first of a trilogy, I was drawn to it with anticipation. What I found was a well written political adventure that combines science fiction in the distant future with elements of fantasy and the supernatural.
Although it was the science fiction elements that drew me into this one, I found that the story was remarkably light on many details, simply using the location and future time frame as a vehicle to tell the story. The technology that is used in this world is based around the dead, and is appropriately named Haunt-tech. This brings in the supernatural elements to the story, with ghosts, interplanetary travel that will kill you in transit before reviving you and ways for the souls of others, or even part of the soul, to be stolen. The fantasy elements are comparable to gothic steampunk and the whole story has that feel about it – it could quite easily have been a fantasy story with some minor edits.
The whole novel is written in the first person, alternating between the two main characters, Hestia and Essegui. As we are taken on the journey through the eyes of these two characters we are limited in our experiences, only knowing what these characters know and the revelations that come along have a bigger impact due to their perspective. While I enjoy reading from a characters viewpoint, I find it can be limiting at times and I feel that I’ve missed something – after all, the descriptions are from the characters. I would have liked some third person narrative simply to explore the world further and give it the scale it deserves.
The story moves along at a slow to steady pace, with action interspersed with the searching and discovery by Hestia and Essegui. By the end I got the feeling that there was so much more to come and that the sequel has been very effectively set up. I look forward to see where the characters go from here and what other revelations and surprises will be thrown up along the way.
Although impressive in both prose and scope, I felt that there was something missing, that something that would take it from being a good book to being a great book. If the second volume can expand further on what Winterstrike has delivered it will make the setting up worthwhile, but alone it is simply too slow moving.