I have mixed feelings about Wintercraft. After taking time to think about it, to me Wintercraft is a novel that has a whole lot of great ideas that just does not quite make it when it comes to putting them all together.
There were a number of things that Wintercraft does really well. There is some really fantastic world-building here, coupled with some great description. The world of Wintercraft is a world tied (at least historically) to the dead, and that issue and concept of the other side is handled beautifully. The first proper introduction to the city of Fume – a city built on the dead and on the thought of death – is a wonderful moment, and for me was one of the high points of the story. The magic that permeates the world was fascinating too, especially since you rarely see abilities regarding the dead as anything but bad and unnatural – in fact in Wintercraft it seems to be the exact opposite, at least when practiced in accordance to the traditions of their world makes for an enthralling twist.
The other high point of Wintercraft is the character of Silas. Silas is a great anti-villain, one I hated for doing what he did, yet felt sorry for him when truths about him were revealed. Yet even as he gained sympathy through his motivations and his desires, he never lost his edge. It’s a difficult line to walk as a writer – being able to make a villain very much a villain, yet still sympathetic without taking either side too far – but Burtenshaw handles this very well.
So with such things to like, what was my trouble with Wintercraft? The answer to this question is the main character, Kate. I cannot say I liked her, and I cannot say I disliked her, really – because that would sort of suggest that I was affected by her presence in some way. And that is the problem, right there. For most of the book she seemed more like an object than an actual character. Her time seemed split between being dragged around by other characters because she had some ability that she was not really aware of, or being given repeated info-dumps by other characters regarding the history of the world, magic and the characters after/around her. Kate started to come into her own towards the end, but it was sort of too little, too late. Had she been developed more, been pro-active on her own accord (not manipulated into being so) then Wintercraft would have been an excellent, well-rounded debut.
While the flatness of the main character did some disservice to the excellent world-building, writing style and minor characters of Wintercraft, for the most part Wintercraft was an enjoyable read that just did not quite live up to its potential. Hopefully in Blackwatch, the next book (out April) see more of the Kate that started to come through at the end – because if that happens while keeping the standard of the rest of Wintercraft, it will be a very powerful follow-up.