Shadow of the Winter King takes place in a world brimming with possibilities as it slowly sputters to its end. The story chronicles a retired assassin and a disgraced knight tied together by past duties and choices. The world’s end is inevitable, and it is that same sad conclusion that permeates the characters as they struggle to stay true to what sliver of them remains in the face of near-certain futility.
The world itself, its pessimistic future and proud history clinging to forlorn hope, sometimes seems like a character unto itself. I found myself very intrigued by some of the second tier characters of the setting. Certain characters that were not the focus of the story ended up being a very interesting lens to see how living in a doomed world inevitably shaped people. The action scenes are the intense and vivid work of well-polished writer. These scenes pop and crackle with energy. The characters are creatures of combat and the book certainly obliges, serving up plenty of bloody struggle.
Much of the story’s tension is tightly bound in the mysteries of the past. While these flashbacks were very interesting, the way information was begrudgingly doled out to the reader did not increase the mystery and tension for me. While attempting to being in media res, I felt more like I was left rudderless.
My favorite characters struggled for screen time. They were reasonably well-developed in their limited appearances, but I found myself more intrigued by the main character’s apprentices and supporting characters than the main characters. The stars are intriguing, but they are inevitably driven by past events that the reader only catches glimpses of when narratively appropriate. It speaks to the strength of the supporting cast, but also the rigidity of the main characters.
Hit. Dark and foreboding, Shadow of the Winter King is end of the world fantasy chock full of violence, sex and mayhem. Strong protagonists, both male and female, drive the story, but its the characters that are caught in their wake that really shine.