Monday, 10 May 2010

Review: Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw

Ten years ago Kate Winters’ parents were taken by the High Council’s wardens to help with the country’s war effort.

Now the wardens are back...and prisoners, including Kate's uncle Artemis, are taken south on the terrifying Night Train. Kate and her friend Edgar are hunted by a far more dangerous enemy. Silas Dane – the High Council’s most feared man – recognises Kate as one of the Skilled; a rare group of people able to see through the veil between the living and the dead. His spirit was damaged by the High Council’s experiments into the veil, and he’s convinced that Kate can undo the damage and allow him to find peace.

The knowledge Kate needs lies within Wintercraft – a book thought to be hidden deep beneath the graveyard city of Fume. But the Night of Souls, when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, is just days away and the High Council have their own sinister plans for Kate and Wintercraft.

It is a rare thing for me to be excited about reading a YA fantasy story. I am not a huge fantasy fan, and with so many books in this genre being the first in a trilogy or series I generally let them pass me by. It's not as if I am short of reading matter after all. However, there has been a lot of talk about this book in the run-up to its 13th May publication date, and a friend had assured me that not only was it brilliant, but it could also be read as a stand-alone, and so it was with some anticipation that I started reading it.

So.... should you believe the hype? Hell yes! Jenna Burtenshaw's debut novel Wintercraft is a dark fantasy story that I just didn't want to end. It follows the adventures of Kate Winters, a reluctant heroine who has lived with her Uncle Artemis, ever since the wardens took away her parents and many of their fellow townspeople in order to aid the war effort. Morvane has been spared the wardens' attention for a decade, but now they are back and as they descend on the town Kate discovers that she has a strange and frightening power which allows her to bring the dead back to life.

Kate's voyage of discovery takes her across Albion, from Morvane to the distant city of Fume, once the country's burial city but now the domain of the High Council. The world she travels through is well-developed by Ms Burtenshaw, and in a manner devoid of the lengthy (and often unnecessary) descriptions that generally turm me off fantasy novels. She makes every word count as she builds the world, and I am more than happy not knowing more details about Albion such as what the landscape is like between Morvane and Fume. When descriptive writing is required it is full of detail, and I found it very easy to create mind pictures of places such as the City Below and the bonemen's ancient library (I would love a library like this).

In less than 280 pages the author also manages to create a plethora of exciting characters, both good and bad (and possibly inbetween the two). My favourite character by far was the cruel Silas Dane. This man has been tireless in his hunt for the Wintercraft, a centuries old book that is purported to contain details on communing and resurrecting the dead, and other such abilities enjoyed by the mysterious Skilled. A puppet of the depraved Da'ru, this man, a cold-blooded killer, is the Darth Vader of Wintercraft - a man so cruel and seemingly devoid of emotion that you just so want to hate him, and yet..........  And like Darth Vader being the real star of the Star Wars saga, Silas Kane is the stand out creation in this story.

Boys, don't you dare not read this book because it has a female main character. You will happily play Tombraider games, yet last time I looked Lara Croft was most definitely female, so give this book the same degree of respect. I can assure you there are no icky romantic moments in this one, and there are some pretty scary moments to keep horror fans smiling. As I said before, this book can be read as a stand-alone. However, whilst bringing the story to a natural conclusion, Ms Burtenshaw has also left the door ajar ready for a further journey into Albion, and I am sure we will see more of Kate Winters and Silas Dane.

Wintercraft is published by Headline, and is due to be released on 13th May, and I am very grateful to the people at Headline for sending me a copy of this book, and thereby introducing me to the world of Wintercaft.

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