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.
The author T.L.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.
I had thought to lay down and get a couple chapters of this book in before sleep, and suddenly it was 2am and I still didn't want to sleep because some cool shit was going down and I needed to know how it played out. To be honest, the first 1/4 or so of this book brought me back to running across Skyrim, visiting each of the Jarls. Don't look at me like that, I didn't say it was a bad thing. I spent something like 2000 hours playing that game (Now you know my secret. I have no life >.>; ). It holds a special place in my heart. But yeah, this book made me want to play it again. In a good way. It made me want to start all over again.
As much as I thought Raef was a great character, who I did root for, Vakre was my favorite character from the very instant that we are introduced to him. He's sort of mysterious from the very beginning, and I love me a good mysteriously stealthy archer. He has a tendency to just show up when Raef needs him most, and then sticks around for the trip around the land. Raef tends to make poor decisions sometimes, in the heat of the moment. Vakre is there to back him up with some cool, logical arrows to the chest. I wondered about his story, and then smiled when we got a bit of it, and it made sense. Despite mysteriousness, he is unfailingly loyal to his friends, and I cheered for him even harder than I cheered for Raef. :D
There were a lot of really great characters in this story. Raef meets a lot of interesting people on his adventures, and Vakre is only the beginning. He repeatedly meets a mysterious half-god traveler who always seems to be a step or two ahead of him. Eira was an interesting character, having little memory of her life past a few years back. She's a shieldmaiden, and is quick to take what she wants (and what she wants is Raef, to start with. Personally I would have found it more entertaining if Raef had to work for it, but whatevs). Siv, another shieldmaiden, is another character I liked. She is always quick with a grin and gives this otherwise war-torn landscape a bit of sunshine, along with Gudrik, the warrior/bard with his flute.
I really like how Raef grew over the course of the book, from the impetuous youth with dreams of sailing the seas to the battle hardened man who has seen some shit and lived to tell the tale. He does start off making rash decisions that almost always end up getting him in trouble, but he learns from his mistakes as his adventure progresses. He starts making better decisions, even if some of them are insane plans with chances in the fractions of percents of working. He's got a bit of mystery behind him too. I liked that.
The plot keeps a very steady pace throughout. There was always something interesting going on. There was enough mystery to keep me guessing about what was going to happen, where Raef and his friends were going to end up, and who was going to end up winning the war. I wondered if the gods, who seem quite real in this world, if off-camera for most of the story, would intervene in the war, or choose a side. The battle scenes were well written, action-packed and full of stabbing, setting lakes on fire, and arrows and axes flying all over the place. Battle galore!
With a satisfying ending that wrapped up the story and left so much room for more adventures, I really liked this one! I will definitely continue to the next book and then the next, because something interesting is going down! A very good read to be sure. Action-packed and viking-tacular!