Matthew Sturges has written a lot of comic books over the last few years. Along with Bill Willingham, he’s penned the adventures of Jack of Fables, a series steeped in fairy tales and fantasy. Midwinter is his first fantasy novel, and he shows real style and flair for prose.
When the novel starts out, the hero Mauritaine is in prison where he’s been kept for a couple years. He’s been victimized by a highborn lord and lost all his rights. He hasn’t seen his wife in all that time and he knows it’s hard on her. Then he gets an offer he can’t refuse, a secret, suicidal mission that will return him to the life he once knew. If only he can survive desperate foes and dangerous lands.
Sturges plants his readers deeply into the plot within just a few short pages, then kicks the stakes up to life or death. I enjoyed the whirlwind way he plunges the action along and brings some backstory along the way. However, I also have to confess that I got lost along the way every now and again, and I never quite understood what the “Gifts” were. There are supposed to only be 12 of them, and I still couldn’t name them even if I tried because I don’t think they were all mentioned in the story. Then, at the end of the book, we find out there’s a 13th Gift after all.
I think the book could have benefited from more explanation at times, but it might have interrupted the pacing, which is one of the really good things about the novel. Sturges writes action sequences like an old pro, and his dialogue is good.
I liked the conflict that came up between the characters. Despite bouncing around in the heads of the various members of Mauritaine’s party, I couldn’t pick the traitor in his midst.
The overall worldbuilding was pretty good. I got the two factions of the elves fighting each other for control, but I didn’t see how the Real World fit into the story. Sturges dips into the Real World a few times, bringing Mauritaine into conflict with human as well as bringing artifacts to bear that are made of iron. The fae world burns at the touch of iron, and I was hoping Satterly would opt for a weapon made of that. I particularly wanted the Pontiac LeMans to come into greater use than it did. I love muscle cars and this novel seemed like a good place to put the pedal to the metal.
Thankfully, this fantasy novel isn’t the start of some trilogy or series. At least, not a series that demands readers immediately pick up the next novel. Hopefully Sturges will write another. I enjoyed the characters well enough and got to know them, and the world is a place I’d like to explore again.