© Matthew Sturges.
Matt Sturges writes, or co-writes two of the comics I letter: HOUSE OF MYSTERY and JACK OF FABLES, and when we were signing together in San Diego this year he was kind enough to give me a copy of his first novel. Fortunately, I like it a lot!
The book opens in an unspecified fantasy world that has been engulfed in winter, something that happens there only about once a century. The scene is a grim, remote castle being used as a prison, where a messenger from the Queen arrives with news for one of the more notorious prisoners: Mauritane, once head of the royal guard, now in disgrace and serving time. The Queen has a mission for him and a few fellow prisoners of his choosing. It requires a forced march across a dangerous no-man’s land full of ancient magic and enemy patrols. Mauritane accepts the assignment, and gathers his group: Honeywell, a former royal guard who stood by his chief’s side even into prison; Silverdun, a former nobleman; Raieve, a warrior woman from distant Avalon; and Satterly, a human from our world who was caught trying to rescue human changelings.
Wasting little time, the group moves out on their dangerous mission, picking up another member, Gray Mave, a former prison guard, at their first stop. Soon they are being chased by soldiers, attacked by a giant, travelling through a sort of time-slowed zone, and having all kinds of difficulties, while learning about each other, forming friendships and enmities, for one among them is a spy and a traitor.
While it takes a while to become clear, this world is that of the Fairies, or Fae as Sturges calls them, with their own Queen being Titania, and her opposite in the far north, Queen Mab, ruler of a large enemy force. As the story unfolds we see both Titania and Mab and their very different courts, while learning much about the world and its struggles. Mauritane and his band reach their destination only to find lots more trouble and intrigue between them and their goal, as three massive forces collide in an epic battle.
While it does take the path of an fantasy quest, MIDWINTER kept me guessing, intrigued, and enjoying both the plot and the characters. Matt wisely lets the leader, Mauritane speak mostly through his actions, unfolding his back story only in small bits, while the other members of the team do most of the talking. Satterly, the human, is often played for comic relief, but gives us an emotional way into this strange society. The events and world behind the story feel real and are well thought out.
My only quibble with the writing is in some of the name choices. There’s an area called Beleriand, for instance, which is right out of Tolkien. And the capital city of Titania is called the City Emerald, too close to The Emerald City. Every time I read that it took me out of the story for a moment. There are a few other similar instances. Fortunately, after a while the book carried me along well enough that I stopped noticing so much.
If you enjoy epic fantasy, I suggest you give this one a try. Recommended.