The Winter Road by Adrian Selby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What does an ex-soldier, newly rich merchant want with a road through the Circle? But Teyr is hungry to prove herself to the family she left behind in the Circle and to the family she has gained in Hillfast: Aude and his boy Mosa, who calls her Ma. The Winter Road is the tale of Teyr Amondsen's ambition, pride, and folly as she pursues her goal, only to be pursued in return by war and death.
It's not often that you find a fantasy book as gritty, grim and brutal as this with a woman who's not waiting to be rescued, but who's leading the fight. Yet also not a woman trying to be a man, but one who has weighed her choices, found peace with her barrenness, and instead loves the people and children that life and chance send her way. It's a fine balance that Selby walks, and Teyr is as facetted a character as you could wish for: ambitious, broken, courageous, defeated, empathetic, foolish... I could go on.
The Winter Road is initially a hard read. I was reading multiple books at the same time, so I had to backtrack and restart the story because a) the flipping between past and present threw off my sense of time, b) I lost track of names, and c) Selby doesn't exactly use standard English all the time. Do not do this. Do not torture yourself. You need to hit this book running and keep going until the payoff when you can no longer stop.
But also, give yourself time to cry and be traumatised mid-book. It's not like Selby doesn't prepare you for it. Almost from the beginning, you know it's going to happen, you know it's going to hurt, but when it finally does, oof, it's a stab in the heart.
The going gets easier in Part Two, when it's all in the present and the action ramps up. Also, if you haven't gotten the slang by now, I don't know what or how you've been reading. The book really ends for me at the closing of Part Two; Part Three is denouement, the playing out of that final story of Aude and Teyr, most of it via letters. It's nice to know, but it feels a little like filler, like when Frodo gets back to the Shire, or the Aragorn and Arwen appendix--you're settling in for the end, tying up loose ends. It's also maybe set up for Snakewood, which I haven't read yet.
The Winter Road is not for the faint-hearted. It's dark and brutal, though, funnily enough, driven by one who wants what's best for the world.
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